Ireland’s biggest advocates for mental health

According to Mental Health Ireland has one of the highest rates (3/36 countries) of mental health illness in Europe with 18.5% of the Irish population recorded as having a mental health illness such as anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression. There is still such a stigma around these conditions that many people often suffer in silence. However, there are a number of people who use their platform to promote mental health issues and encourage people to speak out. Some of these are:

Blindboy Boatclub – Podcaster and Musician

Musician, Artist, TV Presenter, Podcaster and Twitch star Blindboy is one of Ireland’s highest profile mental health advocates and entertainers. Best known for appearing in public with a plastic bag on his head to protect anonymity. Blindboy uses his podcast to delve into psychology theory and gives examples of his own mental health struggles around anxiety and agoraphobia. Now with 25 million downloads it’s one of the most popular podcasts in Ireland.

Niall “Bressie” Breslin – Entrepreneur, Musician, author and Presenter

Singer, TV presenter, Podcaster, Author, former GAA player and rugby player Bressie (as he is better known) is one of the leading voices on anxiety disorders and mental health issues in the workplace in Ireland. Having battled with anxiety disorders from his mid-teens, he wrote a book in 2015 called ‘Me and My Mate Jeffrey’ which details his relationship with his anxiety (which he calls Jeffery). Having had a high profile anxiety attack while hosting ‘The Voice’ on RTE in 2012, Bressie went on to co-found the not-for-profit organisation A Lust for Life. Their mission is to ‘Support, inspire and empower people to take care of their own minds, change societal norms around mental health, humanising the conversation, change societal infrastructure, so that we always catch people when they fall’. This has led to numerous social entrepreneurship awards including the prestigious Social Entrepreneur Ireland Impact award, The Social Innovation Fund and the Google Impact Award.

Aimee-Louise Carton CEO and Co-Founder of KeepAppy

Having been a vicitim of sexual assult and attempting suicide due to PTSD symptoms, Aimee has grown into one of the biggest advocates for mental health in the business community. Co-Founder of ‘KeepAppy’, Aimee created the business out of the frustration she felt with other wellness and mental health apps on the market. In Aimee’s words “it’s a well-designed, user-friendly mental wellness app encompassing more than just mindfulness meditation tracks or habit tracking.” However, KeepAppy has been discriminated against while trying to get funding, with funders describing Aimee as “oh the sucide girl” or questioning what would happen if she attempted suicide again.

Mary Coughlan – Singer

Having been hospitalised for mental health issues as a teenager, the multi-award winning singer has been very open about her struggles with depression, which led to a long battle with alcohol and drugs such as cocaine. Speaking on the Tommy Tiernan show, she said “I was hospitalised 32 times in the space of two year for alcoholism”. Now twice divorced, Mary has been sober for 28 years.  She is now an ambassador for the Rutland Centre which treats people for alcohol and drug dependency.

Caroline Foran – Presenter, Author and Podcaster

Best selling author and highly successful podcaster of a podcast called ‘Owning it, the anxiety podcast’  Caroline’s books and podcast details her own struggles with anxiety and some of the tools and strategies that she and others have used to help reduce some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression they have felt. By opening up, and interviewing other high profile people within the media, Caroline hopes that others can reduce the stigma of anxiety and depression and seek help in their own life.

Mick Finnegan – Entrepreneur, coach and consultant

Mick is a native of Dublin’s inner-city who is an experienced health and social care professional. He has worked in various inpatient and assertive outreach roles across the UK. Mick is an expert by lived experience and has a passion for working with disadvantaged and marginalized groups. More recently, he worked in a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in the NHS in Northern Ireland. Mick has also worked in partnership with Health Education England and NHS improvement as a member of their expert referencing group which developed a new competency framework for lived experience roles within the NHS. This now forms part of their national programme to develop new roles, and expand others, to transform the mental health workforce in England. He lives to pass on his story of hope and recovery, to help others avoid the pitfalls he fell into. He is a National Advisor to London’s Royal College of Psychiatrists, working with the National Collaboration Centre for Mental Health. Mick is now back living in Dublin and studying at Trinity College Dublin where he’s part of the leadership team with the ability co-op. Which is a co-operative movement of students at Trinity College Dublin who are committed towards radical inclusion.

Ibrahim Halawa – Mental Health Advocate

A son of Engypitan parents Ibrahim was born and grew up in Dublin. At the age of 17 he was arrested in Cairo as part of an anti-government protest. Ibrahim spent four years in prison without being tried. He described being beaten in front of his mother and  going on several hunger strikes. During this time Ibrahim entered a deep depression and refused to see his loved ones. However, in 2017 Ibrahim was released and returned home to Ireland where he confirmed that he never tore up his Irish passport or supported the Muslim Brotherhood. Since returning Ibrahim is now a Human Rights Activist and is studying to be a lawyer.

Marian Kayes – Author

Multi-award winning author and journalist Marian, who is a recovering alcoholic, told Ryan Turbiry on ‘The Late Late Show; “I think depression is an illness just as alcoholism is an illness…People, when they hear you had a bout of really bad depression, they wonder what happened? what brought it about? Sometimes for some people, something does happen to trigger it. But…nothing terrible happened to me to trigger it. I went into a psychiatric hospital, I tried all kinds of antidepressants known to man, meditation, mindfulness, CBT, exercise, going on a holiday, hobbies, reading, not leaving the house – everything.” Keyes said her depression went away as quickly as it came, after nearly five years.

Ellie Kisyombe – Entrepreneur and anti-direct provision advocate

Having applied for asylum in Ireland, Ellie was put in the Direct Provision system in Mayo. Being in the System, alone, in cramped conditions sent Ellie into a depression “I was diagnosed with depression. Life was waking up, go to the canteen, have breakfast, go back to bed. Wake up again at 12, go get lunch. Wake up again at 5pm and go get dinner. There were no activities, and relationships between fellow asylum seekers were fraught.” Ellie is now out of the system and reunited with her family. She co-found ‘Opentable’ pop-up restaurants with chef Michelle Darmody and stood for the Social Democrats in local elections.

Sinéad O’Connor – Singer and advocate

One of Ireland’s most successful singers, growing up Sinéad was caught shoplifting and was truant from school. She was sent to a Magdalene Asylum for eighteen months. The time spent in this institution was fraught with abuse. In 2007 Sinéad announced she had been diagnosed with Bi-polar disorder and revealed she had attempted sucide in 1999. In 2017 Sinéad was found safe and well after an alarming post on social media where Sinéad threatened suicide because of the custody battle with her children. After this she said “absolutely nobody in my life except my doctor, my psychiatrist, the sweetest man on Earth who says I’m his hero knows what I’m going through. That’s about the only thing keeping me alive at the moment” In 2020 Sinéad appeared on the Tommy Tiernan show on RTE and said that she suffers from agoraphobia which has hindered her relationships in the past.

Donie O’Sullivan – CNN Reporter

The breakout Irish start of 2021 so far, Donnie was the CNN reporter at the insurrection in the Capitol Building Riots in Washington D.C. on January 6th 2021. Originally from county Kerry Donnie opened up to the Irish Times in February 2021, about how his anxiety attacks that began when he was in college lead to mental health issues saying “I would say that the chaos that I have had in the past in my mind is far more terrifying than anything I have encountered, even at the riot that day at the Capitol. The most terrifying position I have been in in my life has been in my own mind in the grips of anxiety and depression. I want to send the message that you can do this stuff but you need to get help. A lot of guys at home don’t get help. They live on with it, in torture. I don’t know how they could do that because it is just not worth it. There is help out there. There really is. ”  

Enda O’Doherty – Adventurer and Mental Health Advocate

One of Ireland top endurance athletes and mental health advocates Enda is an Assistant Principal at de la Sal CoIlege Waterford and has taken on several endurance events to raise funds for mental health charities in Ireland. Having participating in ‘IronMan UK’, an extreme endurance race that involves a 4km swim, a 180km cycle and a 44km run, and typically takes 16 hours to complete, he also climbed Mount Kilimanjaro with a washing machine on his back, he is also a motivational speak on topics such as leadership, and high performance. He spoke to Evoke.ie saying “I am 11 years coming up dry as an alcoholic, and when I stopped drinking — like a lot of people, I was medicating with brandy without realising it — I had anxiety disorder, depression, sleep disorder, a million problems that I was drowning in. ‘When I stopped drinking, I have no way to describe it but I went through hell of anxiety, pressure, disaster. The wheels literally fell off my life.’ He now advocates for mental health during Covid-19 and for alcoholics who suffered during this period. 

Alan Quinlan – retired rugby player and TV analyst

During his fifteen year rugby playing career Alan played 212 times for Munster scoring 33 tries and 27 times for Ireland scoring 6 tries. During The 2009 Heineken Cup Semi-Final between Leinster and Munster in Alan fingers made contact with the eye area of Leinster’s Leo Cullen. Alan was later cited for an eye gouge. He was picked for the British and Irish Lions Tour, however his name was withdrawn as he was given a 12 week suspension for the incident. While serialising Alan’s book ‘Red Blooded’ The Irish Indepedent he said “Every day seemed to go on and on. I lost a lot of motivation for things that would have excited me before. In my playing days, I had this intense desire to achieve. They say anxious, nervous people get a buzz out of being under pressure. It’s like there is a washing machine going around in my head and it’s very hard to switch that off.” Having complicated sucide Alan knew something had to change. He spoke to his GP and began seeing a psychotherapist, and slowly things improved. Alan now raises awareness of mental health to coprorate companies and sports teams and tries to break the stigma particularly trying to reach men with the massage “it’s ok to ask for help”

Brenda Fricker – Actress

The Oscar winning actress opened up to Tommy Tiernan on his RTE show in January 2021, saying “At this moment in time, well only yesterday, I went to the doctor and he said,  ‘We’re going to put you on stronger antidepressants’ because I am a bit of a recluse…The thing about staying inside by choice is fine. But the moment you’re told to stay inside you want to go out. I’ve learned from that because I wanted to go out because going out the front door can be a problem for me sometimes. I do get very depressed. There is no doubt about that. I was a regular at St Pat’s before it was all posh like it is now. It was very difficult but there was a wonderful doctor Anthony Clare.”

Ashling Thomspon – Camogie All Ireland Winner

Ashling’s mum was a founding member of Milford Camogie Club. Aishling started playing with them when she was 6 years old. She went on to win 3 Club All Irelands with Milford and 4 All Irelands Camogie titles with Cork. She has spoken extensively about her mental health. Aisling was in a car accident in 2009 that caused severe neck pain and result in a period of depression. In 2012 Aishling’s then boyfriend died by suicide. Since then she has spoken publicly about Mental Health saying to the Irish Independent “I Just continue to play sport. Continue to focus my mind on something else. Continue to do things for different charities, like Cycle Against Suicide for Pieta House, or Headstrong” 

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