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Tuesday 3 October 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Column 'I became labelled as my mental illness. I was ridiculed and excluded'
Mental health issues are still not really understood by our society, writes Siobhán Brady.

AT 13 I was surrounded by darkness, lost, confused and broken. My mind was fighting against me, attacking me and working to destroy me. I began to feel low within myself, hopeless, isolated and lonely.

I found myself running through the motions day in and day out, doing only what was expected of me and nothing more.

A black cloud hanging over

I was facing into years that were going to be crucial to my development, but this was abruptly interrupted as a black cloud washed over me, as depression set in, anxiety trapped me and my mental health became increasingly fragile.

As my teenage years continued, I watched the world from the outside. I missed out on making friends, going to discos, having boyfriends, and doing simple things like going to the cinema or having sleepovers.

My depression determined many of my actions leaving me feeling like I missed out on my teenage years. I had to mature far earlier than most.

When people found out I was unwell and looked beyond the fake smile I had plastered on my face things changed. I became labelled as my illness and quickly learned about the lack of understanding people have about mental health problems. I was ridiculed and excluded.

Cutting myself as a copying mechanism

By the time I was 15, self-harm had become my best friend. By age 17 my life was dependent on self-harm as without it I felt I truly couldn’t cope. There was no longer a thought process; I was no longer trying to stop from harming myself.

If I got an urge I acted on it, I didn’t have the strength to fight it any more. Cutting myself was my lifeline, my reason to keep living and it was what allowed me to cope with life and to get through each day.

I hit rock bottom. I couldn’t get through a day without self-harming, it consumed my every thought. I made plans to take my own life. I had goodbye letters written and I had accepted that I was going to find peace through death. I had found a way out from my pain.

I felt like things couldn’t get any worse, but somewhere deep inside me I knew self-harm was not a positive way of coping, I knew I needed help, and I knew things needed to change. Somehow I managed to find someone who pointed me in the right direction.

Opening up

I opened up to a teacher that I knew I could trust. She didn’t try to make me feel better nor did she try to fix me. She was simply there for me and listened. I told her my plans to take my own life.

I looked her in the eyes in the middle of the school courtyard and said: “I won’t be here next week if I don’t get help.” She helped, she supported and guided me and she was there for me every step of the way with phone calls, letters and visits to the hospital, she helped me to see that death wasn’t the answer.

After a stay in an adolescent psychiatric unit I found myself learning more about my self-harm and myself. I wasn’t ‘fixed’ but I was beginning to get that control back. I was beginning to be the one who was in charge.

My journey didn’t end when I was discharged from hospital, in many ways it was only beginning. I still faced urges to self-harm but I had begun to identify new positive coping skills. When I received a new diagnosis of borderline personality disorder at 19, I was presented with more opportunities to understand and overcome my self-harm and that is exactly what I did.

I’ve learned to accept the bad days

I’m not saying that I never have bad days, but I have learned to accept those times when they come and move on from them. I have learned how to take control and how to be in control of my self-harm and that is a huge part of the reason I am still alive today.

Depression stole my youth. It captured me at a young age and has become an essential part of who I have become. Growing up with self-harm as a part of my life has left me with marks that will never fade. Despite not wanting it to define me, in many ways it has.

When I found See Change, I discovered a place that allowed me to develop a positive identity, one which has allowed me to challenge the negative labels imposed on my as a young person into something more positive.

I truly felt like I could make a change by helping to end stigma, and be a part of something that would make a difference to others, and that I could be proud of. The stigma I experienced ignited my desire to help people and enabled me to recognise the need for change in our attitudes towards mental health.

Siobhán Brady has just graduated with a degree in youth work from NUIM and is living in Co Kildare. After many years battling with mental health issues such as self-harm, depression and anxiety, she has recently been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). She’s a fun loving and enthusiastic blogger, scout leader, athletics coach and youth worker. She’s also a See Change Ambassador, seeking to break the stigma of mental health. In May each year, See Change and its partner organisations run the Green Ribbon campaign to get Ireland talking about mental health. This year, 500,000 green ribbons will be distributed nationwide and free of charge in conjunction with hundreds of local and national events. Visit for more information.

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