What Is A Panic Attack?

First thing’s first – what is a panic attack? The HSE say that a panic attack is ‘a feeling of sudden and intense anxiety.’ That definitely sounds unpleasant but if you’ve never experienced a panic attack, it can be difficult to imagine what that actually feels like. If I have a loved one who would like to understand I ask them to imagine the thing they truly fear the most in the world and then imagine how they would feel if that thing were to actually happen. Now imagine feeling that level of intense fear and anxiety totally out of the blue. Imagining it is obviously not entirely the same thing but it goes some way towards helping them understand. (I just want to point out that I don’t go around asking people to think of the thing that scares them the most because that’s not nice, please don’t do that! However, if a loved one specifically asks then I’ll broach it.)

There are a ton of symptoms that come with panic attacks and different people experience different ones. Symptoms can include:

  • A racing heart, a pounding heart or palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling short of breath or as though you can’t get enough oxygen
  • Hyperventilating (breathing too fast which speeds up heart rate)
  • A sensation of choking
  • Sweating
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Nausea or abdominal distress
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed or faint
  • Chills or heat sensations
  • Numbness or tingling sensations
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Uncontrollable crying
  • Derealization (feelings of unreality) or depersonalization (being detached from oneself)
  • A fear of losing control or “going crazy”
  • A fear of dying

Given the symptoms, it’s not surprising that many people think they are having a hear attack but it’s important to know that a panic attack will not kill you.

Panic itself is a good thing, it’s kept us alive for years. The ‘fight or flight’ response alerts us to potential danger and allows us to act in an appropriate manner. However, problems arise when this response is switched on when there’s no need, when there is no danger. It’s almost like a house or car alarm going off without reason.

There isn’t a definite answer as to why panic attacks occur*. Some people have specific triggers that they can easily identify such as particularly stressful events (losing a job, death of a loved one, etc) or major life changes (graduating college/uni, having a baby, getting married, etc). Panic attacks can also present with other illnesses. For example, a person with social anxiety disorder may have a panic attack before they’re due to give a presentation. Those who have experienced a panic attack may be so fearful and anxious about having another one that they develop panic disorder.

So, what can you do if you have a panic attack?

  • Try to remember that the panic attack can’t hurt you. It is no doubt unpleasant and frightening but you will be okay.
  • If you are hyperventilating try to focus on slowing your breathing. Breathe in for 4, hold for 1, breathe out for 4.
  • Try to focus on something other than the panic attack. Pick an object nearby and notice everything about it. Describe it to yourself in as much detail as possible. Sometimes drawing your attention away from the panic attack can stop it.
  • If your surroundings aren’t what triggered the panic attack pay attention to them. Do your best to ground yourself wherever you are. For example – I’m safe, I’m sitting at home, there’s nothing here that will hurt me, the tv is on, I can hear the clock, I can hear the birds outside, I know this place, I’m safe.
  • If your surroundings are causing your panic attack try closing your eyes (if it’s safe to do so!). Sometimes reducing stimuli can stop a panic attack.

If you’re experiencing panic attacks speak to your healthcare provider. There’s no need to be embarrassed about having panic attacks. Around 2.4 million Americans experience panic disorder in a given year** so you’re not alone and it’s likely that your doctor will be familiar with them. There are medications that can be used to help treat chronic panic attacks (panic disorder) as well as a number or therapies such as CBT or DBT so don’t feel like you’ll be stuck having them forever.

I lived with panic disorder for almost ten years. When it was at it’s worst I had several panic attacks every single day. It was so bad for me because initially I didn’t know what was happening and I didn’t have help. However, once I did have support and I was able to educate myself I found that the panic attacks subsided. I haven’t had one in almost five years but if I was to have one, I’d know how to deal with it. It can get better, there is hope.

Lastly, remember to be kind to yourself. Panic attacks are truly exhausting so give yourself a break! Take time to recover. If you are a loved one of someone who experiences panic attacks, keep in mind that they’ll probably be emotionally and physically drained after experiencing a panic attack, they may also be fearful of having another so do your best to let them know you’re there to support them.



Need help or advice? Click here for a list of support charities and organisations.

A Conversation With My Social Anxiety

2:am, in bed.

Steph: I’m so tired

Anxiety: But there are so many mistakes that we haven’t thought about yet.

Steph: No, I’m going asleep.

Anxiety: Hey, you know that presentation you’ve got to do in five weeks?

Steph: ….yeah?

Anxiety: You’re going to be terrible at it. You’ll definitely mess it up. Everyone else is going to think you’re so stupid, they’re going to laugh at you.

Steph: You don’t know that, it’ll probably be fine.

Anxiety: Will it though?

Steph: ffs

Anxiety: …

Anxiety: …

Anxiety: Remember last week when you tried to pay for that jumper and you gave them the wrong amount? HA! What kind of eejit does that?! Bet they thought you were an idiot, they probably had a good laugh about you with their mates!

Steph: It was just a mistake. Anyone could make that mistake.

Anxiety: Could they though?

Steph: ….maybe.

Anxiety: Don’t forget that you’ve to make that phone call tomorrow.

Steph: Why do you have to bring this up now? I just want to sleep.

Anxiety: Bet your voice will shake and you’ll forget what you’re supposed to say.

Steph: If I’m nervous I’ll just write down the main points before I make the call.

Anxiety: Who does that?! A script to make a phone call – really? How sad is that? You won’t be able to do it, just like you won’t be able to do the presentation. You can’t even pay for something in a shop without fucking it up! Even children can do that right. You fail at everything. It’s who you are – a failure. What have you got to show for yourself after 26 years? Not a lot! Everyone else is doing great, they graduated college or they’ve got full time jobs. They’re having a great time, it’s all over Facebook and Instagram. You can’t even order a drink on a night out and don’t get me started on how you act around new people or Ian’s friends! I bet they all make fun of you behind your back, they must hate you…

Steph: You’re right.

Please know that I’m well now but these were the kind of thoughts I would have every single day. Living with an anxiety disorder is so exhausting. Imagine fighting with your mind every day, that’s what it feels like. Some days (or weeks or months) you don’t win, anxiety does and you believe those thoughts, you start to accept that false narrative as truth. It’s a struggle to turn that inner conversation around, a struggle that most people don’t see. It takes time, practice and persistence, sometimes it take professional help but it is possible.

Also, please know that my boyfriend’s friends are sound people and it’s unlikely that they make fun of me behind my back and the people I go to college with are a lovely, supportive bunch!

Talk Therapy – Benefits and Misconceptions

Note: this post is discussing private psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or counselling, rather than therapy accessed through public healthcare such as the HSE or NHS.

According to a study conducted by the University of California – Los Angeles, verbalising our emotions makes our negative feelings such as sadness, anger and pain less intense. Furthermore, putting our feelings into words – talking to a therapist or friend helps us to feel better.

Talk therapy is especially useful for those experiencing a mental health difficulty such as an anxiety disorder or depression. A therapist provides a confidential, safe space to explore your thoughts and feelings. They can be a sounding board, someone to guide you through difficult feelings and someone to offer a different perspective, one that you might not consider on your own.

Therapy is also helpful for anyone struggling to manage emotions and stressors, even the ones that aren’t life altering or traumatic. It can help an individual establish and maintain better emotional wellness.

Counselling is generally confidential*, so there’s no fear of having a therapist tell the world about the difficulties you are experiencing. Therapists/counsellors must adhere to a code of ethics which protects both themselves and the client. Some of the things usually outlined in this is the client’s right to respect, dignity and confidentiality along with continued education/supervision for the therapist.**

There are some misconceptions about this kind of therapy –

  • A therapist won’t magically ‘fix’ all of your problems for you but they will facilitate conversation to help you navigate your own way through them while offering support and a listening ear.
  • Therapy is not lying on a couch or some strange Freudian dream, it will likely involve both parties having a conversation while sitting opposite each other. However, most therapists will be open to you sitting in whatever way is comfortable for you.
  • Therapy is not for ‘crazy’ people. All sorts of people attend talk therapy for a whole host of reasons. Mental ill health/a diagnosed mental health condition, a major life transition, relationship difficulties, grief and difficulty coping with every day stress are just some of the reasons people seek the help of a professional therapist.
  • Therapy is a waste of money when you could just speak to your friends or family. True, you could speak to your friends or family and it definitely is important to have supportive relationships with people you can trust. However, a therapist has training and experience that loved ones don’t and they are a neutral party capable of making objective observations because their relationship with you is not clouded by emotion.

When looking for a therapist/counsellor you should always seek someone who is fully qualified. In Ireland, qualified counsellors are accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. The IACP provide a directory of professionals on their website where you can search by location, see what each therapist specialises in and access their contact details.

*A counsellor/therapist may break confidentiality when required to do so by law or when they believe that a client may cause harm to themselves or others.

**To view the IACP Code of Ethics click here.

Need advice or help? Click here for a list of charities and organisations who could help. Alternatively, click ‘directory of professionals’ above to access a list of therapists in Ireland.

My Mental Health Story Reaction & Update

Hi guys!

It’s been a few days since I shared my mental health story with you all. As I said, I’ve been blogging about mental health and wellness for quite a while now but I usually only focus on one particular issue at a time so I’d never shared everything before. Right now I am well and that’s been the case for the last couple of years so I haven’t had to think about some of the stuff in that post for quite a while. Writing it all out took three days because I found that I needed a couple of breaks and it took a few goes to make sure everything was in order and made sense. Part of maintaining wellness is knowing when enough is enough, it’s knowing when you need to say no to something or keep it for another day which is exactly what I did!

I’ve recieved some absolutely lovely messages since I shared my experiences with you guys. I’ve had friends sending on their words of encouragement, my usual Twitter gang offering words of support and even total strangers sharing their own stories with me.

One thing I do want to say is that you don’t have to share your experiences if you’re not ready or if you just don’t want to. Don’t be pressured in to sharing these things, it’s up to you to decide when you share that information and that’s if you decide to share at all. For me, it was a little draining and anxiety inducing which is why I hadn’t shared before now. When I first started blogging I probably couldn’t have handled writing that post, never mind sharing it! It wasn’t the right time then but it is now.

I had a super busy weekend so I haven’t managed to get back to everyone just yet but I promise I will. Tomorrow is a college day for me which I’m really looking forward to. Having the opportunity to study Mental Health is amazing. I’ve wanted this for a really long time but I put it off because other people were telling me that it wouldn’t be for someone like me and I listened to them. As a result, I wasted a lot of time and money trying to do other things that I just wasn’t passionate about. I did learn a lesson though – I should trust myself more.

Anyway, that’s me for now. Thank you again for all of your loveliness these last few days, I really do appreciate it.

If you need help/advice you can find a list of organisations and charities here.

My Mental Health Story

TW: Depression, anxiety, social anxiety, depression, self harm & overdose. I adhere to best practice when writing about mental health so there are no graphic details in the following post.

I’ve been blogging about mental health for over a year now. During that time I’ve shared snippets of my own experiences but I’ve never shared them in full. I didn’t post anything for days 9 and 10 of Blogtober because I was busy writing this. I had intended to share it yesterday, on World Mental Health Day but it didn’t feel right so I held off. WMHD is a fantastic initiative and it was great to see so much conversation around mental health (anything that encourages that is good!) but I think it’s important to remember that mental health is for everyone, every day and not just on Hashtag Holidays. Anyway, here’s my story in full for the first time…

My mental health journey began at five years old. My very first teacher wrote on my school report ‘anxious at times.’ It seemed to set the tone for the next fifteen years.

I don’t remember a lot of my childhood before the age of ten but there are some stand out moments. Some of the best memories are of my first day of school, my first nephew being born and getting a bike from Santa one Christmas. Other memories aren’t so great. I watched as a new neighbour moved in, a girl I wanted to be friends with but was too terrified to speak. We did eventually become friends but that feeling of terror became a familiar one. I often left the classroom to avoid situations that I was afraid of such as reading aloud and after a particularly bad day, my teacher pulled me aside to ask if I was sick because I was spending so much time in the bathroom. I was sick but not in the way she was thinking and I didn’t know how to explain that. When I was eight, an aunt of mine passed away after months of battling cancer. We spent a lot of time at her house while my mam helped care for her. I knew she was ill but I didn’t understand the severity of it and I was shocked when she died. My family was doing their best to protect me from it but you can’t protect anyone from the reality of death. Her passing had a massive impact on me but I didn’t realise quite how much until about eight years later. As a child I constantly worried about ‘something bad’ happening to my parents when I wasn’t there which made being in school or at a friend’s house difficult. I struggled with that a lot more at night time so I’d often get upset and be unable to sleep which had a knock on effect the following day.

I moved house and school when I was nine. At my new school I made friends pretty quickly but I still struggled with the overall situation. By all accounts I was a bright child and I loved learning (I still do, I’m a nerd!) but the classroom environment was a big issue for me. I began to have panic attacks at twelve years old. Everyone, myself included, seemed a bit baffled by that – nobody really knew anything about them or how to handle them. I had no idea what was happening to me and my parents were concerned that there was something physically wrong with me so I had lots of tests done to be sure that I was physically well. I did have asthma but the majority of these attacks weren’t asthma related. In school, when I would have a panic attack my teacher would move me to a table at the back of the classroom where I would sit and sharpen a box of pencils. As a more educated adult I know that they thought that giving something else to focus on might help me but it didn’t. It made me feel more separated from the rest of the class, it further marked me out as different. However, at the time, I didn’t know what I needed and even I had known, I wouldn’t have had the language to explain it.

My first year of secondary school continued in much the same way. I would have a panic attack and be put on the side, sent to the sick bay or excused from class to get some fresh air. By age fourteen and in Second Year, I was really mentally unwell. I was having multiple panic attacks every single day and they were so draining. I wasn’t sleeping well and I’d spend most nights crying because I was dreading the next day so much. I’d spend my mornings vomiting or with diarrhoea brought on by the anxiety I was experiencing. I began to lose weight. I felt like I was losing my mind.

At that point I was invited to join the Rainbows Programme in my school along with attending a thirty minute session with the school counselor once a week. Both the woman running the Rainbows group and that school counselor have had a massive impact on my life. I’m so grateful to have had them. I think of them quite often and wish I had a way to contact them ten years on. Rainbows and the counselling service were great resources. However, I don’t believe either can cope with being the only support available for hundreds of students (more on this in a later post!). In my opinion, as a result of that, warning signs were missed and it’s quite possible that it’s still the case.

The following year I was approaching my fifteenth birthday and I was incredibly mentally ill. One morning, over breakfast, my mam asked if I was feeling depressed. I didn’t fully grasp what that meant, I’d never heard it spoken about in any detail at home or in school but it seemed like saying yes was the right thing to do. My mam was great, she arranged an appointment with my GP right away. I can’t remember the appointment itself but I know that I left with a prescription for Xanax. I took the medication but it didn’t suit me. I was walking around like a zombie, I wasn’t present any more. I was going through my days knowing things were happening and that people were interacting with me but it was as if I was behind a pane of glass where I couldn’t reach anyone. Thankfully, my mam noticed and asked for my medication to be changed. It took switching medications a couple of times for me to find the one that suited me best in terms of side effects but I still didn’t feel as though it was helping.

Life continued in a similar fashion until 2008. By then I’d been self harming in various ways for months. Every night I was crying my heart out on the bathroom floor. Every school morning I was vomiting from the intensity of the anxiety I was experiencing. I went to school but I was rarely in class because of the panic attacks and when I was there I couldn’t keep up with the work because I’d missed so much. I rarely lasted a full day in school. My parents would get a call from the school most days asking if I could go home. At this point they asked if I was missing so much school because I was being bullied but I wasn’t at that time. The next logical conclusion for them was that I was just acting out, being a troublemaker. They were frustrated that I was missing so much school and they tried everything to get me to stay there. They couldn’t see what was going on and I couldn’t tell them. They tried to frighten me in to staying in school by telling me they’d make me change schools, that they’d send me to a boarding school or even send me to live with relatives in England. They were at the end of their tether. The relationship between my parents and I began to suffer. I began to feel angry all the time. I was angry that I was surrounded by all of these adults but none of them could see that I was in serious need of help. I was experiencing angry outbursts over seemingly insignificant things. My mam would ask me to empty the dishwasher and I’d start a full blown shouting match. I couldn’t regulate my responses. I was constantly ready to blow up over anything. I think my family saw that behaviour partly as teenage mood swings and partly as me trying to make life more difficult. I turned that anger inwards and the self harm became worse. ‘Why can’t I just be normal? Look at what I’m doing to my parents. My family hate me. Why do I feel this way? Why can’t anyone else see it? Am I crazy?’. It took me a long time to realise it but I held on to that anger for years. Anger at everyone around me and anger at myself.

I didn’t know how to tell them what was going on with me, I thought it was in my head, that I was abnormal. Neither my teachers or family had the knowledge to realise what was happening. It wasn’t their fault and it wasn’t mine.

Approaching the summer of that third year of secondary school, I attempted to take an overdose but I was interrupted. A goodbye text I had sent to a friend was shown to a member of school staff, my parents were called, I was found and brought to them. They had been told everything. The school principal told me that I would be leaving with immediate effect so that I could get help. I wasn’t sure what came next.

I want to break the narrative here for just a moment to be really clear about something – I am so glad that I was interrupted that day, that my friends told a member of staff what was happening. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to be free of the immense pain and turmoil I was feeling every minute of every day and, in the state I was in, death seemed like the only way to achieve that but it wasn’t the only way. I will always be sorry that my teenage friends had to deal with that. I have apologised and thanked them since but I wish it had never gotten to that point. Those friendships were changed by the events of that day and what followed. I’m no longer in contact with most of those people and I doubt they’ll ever see this but I hope they know that they saved a life that day. Anyway, back to it…

My school let me return after a few weeks under a new set of rules. My parents and I met with the principal who had drawn up a ‘contract’ for me to sign before returning to class. I can’t remember every rule from it but the ones that have stuck in my mind are that I wasn’t to be alone, including going to and from school, going to the bathroom and during lunch. I wasn’t allowed to speak to any student about the events leading up to my ‘break’ from school or anything that took place while I was away. If I was feeling down or struggling again (I was never not struggling, those couple of weeks off school didn’t magically make me better) I wasn’t to discuss it with any student including friends. I signed it like I was supposed to and I stuck to it.

I can 100% understand the need to safeguard other students but that ‘contract’ really affected our relationships. My friends wanted an explanation and I couldn’t give it to them. I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t, they could tell that I was projecting a false persona but I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t risk getting kicked out of school and upsetting my family even more. I became isolated in school, rumours began and bullying started. I’d had quite a large group of friends up to that point but now I found myself with just one who wasn’t in the same year as me. She really kept me going through those times but  not having a friendly face around for most of the day was difficult.

Over the next eighteen months I made a couple of new friends and I became close to one of the girls I’d been friends with previously but understandably she felt caught in the middle. I was still having issues with those former friends. I would find thinly veiled comments about me online, they would whisper, point and laugh while sitting behind me in classes or while walking the corridors at lunch. One of them wrote me a very scathing letter telling me she never wanted anything to do with me again and had someone else deliver it to me which led to a screaming match in the middle of a hallway during lunch – not ideal!

Things weren’t great outside of school either, my dad had a heart attack, a relative had died which brought up some of the feelings I hadn’t dealt with years before and my mam was diagnosed with cancer. I was seeing CAMHS and on medication but the meds didn’t seem to agree with me and seeing different doctors at the CAMHS sessions meant I couldn’t build a rapport with anyone. My sessions weren’t frequent enough or long enough for me to feel any benefit from them so even if I did get to see the same doctor for a couple of sessions it didn’t make a difference.

Eventually, it all became too much and after a heart to heart with my mam, I made the decision to leave school in December 2009, six months before I was due to sit my final exams. I left because I knew that if I continued on I would end up at crisis point again. It was the right decision but it didn’t lessen the heartache of seeing my friends prepare for their exams and college. I began to feel alone again because I was missing all the ‘in jokes’ and conversations happening at school.

The following six years were tumultuous. I started jobs and courses because I felt like I should but I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t cope and I ended up leaving all of them. The panic disorder didn’t have so much of a grip on me but the social anxiety was worse. I couldn’t get a bus or taxi on my own, I couldn’t interact with retail staff, I couldn’t make a phone call, some days I couldn’t leave the house at all. I switched from CAMHS to adult mental health services where I would often be waiting an hour past my appointment time just to see a another doctor that I’d never met before. They would run through their  checklist –

  • In the past month have you had any thoughts of killing yourself?
  • In the past month have you engaged in any self harming behaviour?
  • Have you been sleeping well?
  • Have you been eating well?
  • Are you currently a risk to yourself or anyone around you?
  • Have you been taking your medication?

Then I would be given my next appointment date and sent on my way. It wasn’t the doctor’s fault that they couldn’t give me or their other patients more time. They were overstretched and struggling to meet the demand of so many cases.

Labels don’t work for everyone but, for me, the one benefit of attending HSE mental health services was getting formal diagnoses of Depression, Panic Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. Having that information allowed me to find a community of others who were experiencing the same thing I was, which meant I felt less alone. I realised just how many people went through what I did. I found peer support. Most importantly, I was able to educate myself which is exactly what I did. That’s when ‘recovery’ (more on this in a later post!) started for me, even though I didn’t realise it at the time.

In 2015 I decided to return to education as an adult and over the next eighteen months I gained three qualifications and secured a place on a bachelor’s degree. I wasn’t entirely well during that time. I never managed to do a presentation and I missed a lot of Tuesday classes because I found that day particularly difficult to cope with but I did manage to finish all three courses and I left with great results.

The results weren’t the best part of the course though, the people were. I’d always joked that I hated people to cover up the fact that I found it difficult to interact with more than one person at a time but those people changed that for me. They embraced my quirks, they supported me and they made me laugh every day (they even made me laugh about those Tuesdays!). Most days I looked forward to going to school because I knew they would be there. They probably don’t know the impact they had but I don’t think I’d have gotten through that year and a half without them.

I began my degree and I was really enjoying it but I had to leave it after a few months because of a problem with my hip. It derailed me somewhat and I began to struggle again. I felt like I was letting people down. I applied for and got a job hoping it would ease some of the guilt I was feeling but I couldn’t cope and I quickly left. I realised that if I was to be well again I had to go back to basics and figure out what would get me well and help me stay that way.

The past year and a half has been good. Sure, there are still some bad weeks but they’re never as bad as they once were and if I was to get to that crisis point again I know I have an action plan to get help. The problem with my hip hasn’t been resolved yet but physiotherapy has made it more manageable. I’ve been able to return to education part time where I’m studying Mental Health in the Community. I have this blog that enables me to interact with so many passionate and inspiring mental health bloggers and advocates every single day. I have a wonderful partner, friends and family who do their absolute best to understand and support me when I’m not doing so well. There might still be times when I struggle, in fact I’m sure there will be, but now I can see how good life can be, I know that I am capable of so much, I have hope and that changes everything.

There will be some posts coming up looking at youth mental health in Ireland, initiatives currently taking place and some questions about what happens next.

This was very long for one blog post so if you’ve managed to stick it out to this point, thank you.

If you need help or advice you can find a list of charities and organisations here.

Hope is…

The Oxford English Dictionary defines hope as ‘A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.’

But hope is so much more than that…

Hope is sunshine on a crisp morning,

it’s watching my nephews and niece learn something new,

it’s listening to my favourite songs,

it is watching Great British Bake Off with my mam.

Hope is a bunch of fresh flowers,

a nice smelling candle,

car journeys with my dad,

watching Marvel movies,

my dog resting his head on my lap.

Hope is a good cup of coffee,

having my family together for birthdays,

the smell of a new book,

laughing at a stupid joke my boyfriend told me,

a nice email, tweet or comment.

Hope is yellow,

it’s crunchy leaves in Autumn,

a walk in the park,

peanut butter cups,

waking up at 3am and knowing I still have hours left to sleep.

Hope is being grateful for both the big things and the small ones.

Hope is knowing that there will be more of them.

Hope is believing that bad days won’t last forever.

Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all..._

What does hope look like for you? Share it with me below! 

For help, advice and information click here.

Green Ribbon Campaign

Tuesday, May 1st marked the beginning of the See Change Green Ribbon campaign.

The Green Ribbon campaign is all about starting a conversation about mental health and stomping out stigma.

Collins Dictionary describes stigma as follows – ‘If something has a stigma attached to it, people think it is something to be ashamed of.’  Historically this has been the case with mental health and mental illness but thankfully people like those at See Change are working hard to change this! The Green Ribbon campaign is urging people to talk to change minds about mental health one conversation at a time.

If you’re not used to speaking about mental health it can be daunting but as See Change say ‘You don’t have to be an expert to talk about mental health.’ If you pick up a free Green Ribbon you’ll see some tips on the back of the packet:

  • Talk, but listen too.
  • Keep in touch, remind them you care
  • Be patient
  • don’t just talk about mental health, talk about other things too. 


I’d like to share my own Green Ribbon story with you.

I began experiencing mental health difficulties as a child. Eventually I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Depression*. My mam was supportive in that she went to my appointments with me and she would sit with me if I was upset but conversation around mental health didn’t really happen, everything was a bit hush-hush.

Now, I know that she thought she was protecting me. My mam feared that by speaking out about my own experiences I would be bullied. She also found mental health difficult to talk about because of the stigma attached to it that she experienced growing up – talking about mental health difficulties just wasn’t something that was done.

Then, one day she came home with a green ribbon on her coat. That little ribbon changed so much. It opened up conversation between us, it allowed us to talk about things we had never spoken about before yet desperately needed to. It wasn’t always easy and sometimes there were tears involved but it was so, so worth it.

Now, every year we not only make a point of getting green ribbons to wear ourselves but also one or two extra for anyone who we cross paths with who is interested. As I mentioned in a previous post we now speak about our mental health in the same way we speak about our physical health. Saying “I’m struggling today, I need to take some time out.” is no different than saying “I have a migraine, I need to go lie down for a while”. That little green ribbon changed a whole lot and I’ll be forever grateful for it.


If you’d like to get involved you’ll find Green Ribbons in all Boots stores and Irish Rail stations nationwide free of charge.  There are loads of other ways to support the campaign too – to find out more visit the See Change site, visit them on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram

You can join the conversation using #greenribbonirl and take part in #TimeToTalk Day on May 4th across social media.


*Not everyone experiencing a mental health difficulty will be diagnosed with a mental illness.

For help, advice and information click here.