Alright ‘not to feel okay’, Cycle Against Suicide student told

Secondary school event at RDS hears from Bressie, Sonia O’Sullivan and Alan Quinlan

 Cyclists at the 2014 Cycle Against Suicide.Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

Cyclists at the 2014 Cycle Against Suicide.Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The predominating message for the 3,500 secondary school students at a charity Cycle Against Suicide event today, was that it is alright not to feel okay, and help is always at hand no matter how dark things may appear.

The student leaders’ congress at the RDS in Dublin heard from public figures including singer Bressie (Niall Breslin), runner and Olympian Sonia O’Sullivan and former Ireland rugby player Alan Quinlan.

Having founded Cycle Against Suicide in 2012, Kerry-based entrepreneur Jim Breen was eager to include Ireland’s teenagers in a national conversation about suicide and depression. He began a journey to raise greater awareness of the isolation that people can feel and explaining how such feelings can be combatted.

“The reason the cycle element came in is because men, when they’re shoulder-to-shoulder on bikes, they don’t do anything but talk. Whereas face-to-face it’s much more difficult to talk, particularly about their feelings,” Mr Breen said. He will be running the 1,400km route of this year’s cycle before participating in April’s main event.

“The word suicide hadn’t been mentioned in schools, but we knew coming from international best practice that it was good to have these conversations,” Mr Breen said.

“The beauty of targeting this demographic is that today, these students will go home to their brothers, sisters, parents and friends, and it’s a way of spreading the message out into the local community.”

Suicide rates among under-24s in Ireland are among the highest in Europe, with young men particularly at risk.

After speaking publicly last year on his personal struggles with anxiety, Bressie stressed that positive mental health is not about comparing your situation to that of “starving children in Africa” and considering how privileged you are, but mentally reaffirming that “you will always be okay”.

He also called on the education system to provide classes and information services on mental health issues in order to adequately equip young people for such problems.

“Students have the sincere power to tell teachers, to tell educational authorities: ‘we want this on the curriculum’,” he told a captivated audience of orange-clad attendees, volunteers and organisers.

She may be more known as a runner, but Sonia O’Sullivan hopes to make it home from Melbourne to partake in the 2015 Cycle Against Suicide. Speaking during the event, she recounted some trying experiences of her own over the course of her career.

“I remember being in Florida one time when I was injured.You go over there to a physio who you think has all the answers… and they tell you that you can’t run, and you’ve got to stop right now,” the Olympic silver medallist said.

“It’s the worst feeling in the world, and you’re sitting there upset, crying, bothered; and then you think: ‘it’s okay to be upset’, because it means that much to you

“You just need somebody to guide you in the right way,” she said.

The event, which was organised in conjunction with students’ suggestions, encouraged them to make a change in local communities.

“It’s good for once to have something that’s so student organised. I’m a student volunteer here today, and I feel like we’re being heard, and what we want to say is being put up on a platform for us,” said 17-year-old Kellie Gregan from St Mary’s Holy Faith school in Killester, Dublin.

“I think events like this bring you back down. Especially when you’re in sixth year; when your head’s everywhere, you don’t know where you’re going, and you can get so stressed. Having this calms you and puts these things into perspective,” said Toni Scurry from St Michael’s school in Finglas, Dublin.

Cycle Against Suicide takes place between April 27th and May 10th. Cycleagainstsuicide.ie