I MET CYCLE Against Suicide founder Jim Breen back in 2012 after I had interviewed him on my radio show. He spoke to me passionately about the stigma surrounding mental health and how we had to change it. He spoke my language, for years I had been a strong advocate for positive mental health.
I witnessed many times how silence was the killer and talking quite often the cure. We dealt with issues of mental health on the radio show and received many emails and letters from people who had really benefitted from our conversation.
There’s a reason why, as a society, we have such expressions as “It’s good to talk” or “A problem shared, is a problem halved.” Talking works.
The big challenge for the fledgling charity was the first Cycle Against Suicide around Ireland. It would take place in April 2013, would last 14 days and we would cycle 1,400kms, but would anyone sign up?
We rolled out a campaign across RTÉ 2FM, we visited schools all across Ireland and we encouraged people to open up their homes and give a bed for a night to a cyclist. It was organised like a military operation but we were missing one thing, the soldiers.
On first morning we gathered in RTÉ and our hearts soared as over 2,000 cyclists arrived to begin the very first cycle. The campus was buzzing, the smiles radiated across south county Dublin. The bikes were shiny, the coffee warm and when Noel Curran DG of RTÉ hit the klaxon my breath was taken away and I shed a tear.
Making a difference
A peloton of 2,000 cyclists snaked through RTÉ and out onto the Stillorgan dual carriageway, beginning the journey across Ireland. It was stunning, mesmerising and at that moment I truly believed we could and would make a difference.
Since that day we have successfully completed four annual cycles. People have opened their homes and their hearts to us. Schools have danced, sang and made more sandwiches than I thought was humanly possible. And the important thing, we got Ireland talking. Talking about mental health, talking about suicide, anxiety, depression and bullying. Talking about fixing it.
We got Ireland talking
But we weren’t finished. We then created the Student Leaders’ Congress. It started in 2013 in a radio studio in RTÉ with 40 students speaking about issues that affected them. It was inspiring to hear them talk and we realised they needed a bigger forum to talk and be proactive.
This year, 2017, the Student Leaders’ Congress took place in University Limerick, attended by 6,000 students. We had motivational speakers such as Pat Lam and music from the likes of The Strypes and Orla Gartland, with the students, singing, dancing, laughing and crying. I was proud to be the MC for the two days. Two days I will never forget in my entire life.
And there’s more. Today, hundreds of schools across the island of Ireland will “Go Orange” to promote positive mental health. As part of the build up to this, the #SchoolsGoOrange selfie campaign has caused well-known Irish faces from Joe Duffy to Nadia Forde, and from Gerry Adams to Dustin The Turkey to “Go Orange” on social media.
It’s been a rollercoaster four years, an amazing journey that’s helped me through my own dark days. In my business, anxiety comes with the job. I’ve learnt to deal with it much better because of Cycle Against Suicide. I don’t hold it in, I talk about it and I believe I’m a stronger person because of it.
We have a message, a simple message but a strong message in Cycle Against Suicide:
It’s OK not to feel OK and it’s absolutely OK to ask for help.
Trust me it works.
Colm Hayes is the CEO of Cycle Against Suicide. As a broadcaster, he has over 30 years experience working in radio and television. Cycle Against Suicide’s mission is to spread the message that, “it’s OK not to feel OK; and it’s absolutely OK to ask for help,” so, together, shoulder to shoulder, we can break the cycle of suicide on the island of Ireland. Today hundreds of schools take part in Cycle Against Suicide’s #SchoolsGoOrange Day for mental health awareness. To find out more visit www.cycleagainstsuicide.com. Cycle Against Suicide can be found on Twitter @CASuicide.