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'Slam poetry helped me overcome suicidal thoughts'

Ryan Mangan is one of five young people representing Ireland at an international poetry festival.

RYAN MANGAN WAS depressed. He’d had suicidal thoughts that he never confronted until a friend took his own life at the age of 19.

“I was broken, it was the final straw for me,” he recalls.

Source: Team Ireland Brave New Voices/YouTube

Ryan said, like a lot of people, he had a tendency to “cover up my emotions”.

I’d bottle them up … tell myself that they’d never need to be tackled, that they’d miraculously just disappear out of their own accord. I mean, what harm could they possibly have done anyway? They weren’t physical. So why should I admit that they were getting the better of me?

Ryan said he experienced “dark and harrowing” thoughts since he was about 13 years old, and at times wanted to end his life.

I’d discovered that I may be approaching a danger zone. I still didn’t speak out about my issues. By then the embarrassment of making such a revelation kicked in. It just seemed so abnormal to admit you had depression.

He said a turning point in his life happened when Stephen Murray gave a talk in his secondary school. Stephen was looking for young people to represent Ireland at Brave New Voices, a slam poetry competition taking place in Atlanta, Georgia this July.

image3 Ryan Mangan

Ryan said writing poetry has finally helped him confront his issues, and deal with the grief he feels for his friend.

He recalled being overcome with a “fervent desire to do everything I could” to raise awareness about mental health and encourage people to speak up.

Ryan said he’s very grateful his poetry “has given me the chance to speak out against suicide with the promise of sharing emotions with others who are more than willing to listen”.

He will perform his poem about depression, ‘Pitchfork Branches’, to an international audience at Brave New Voices this summer.

image1 Source: Ryan Mangan

Stephen received more than 5,000 entries for the competition, and the finalists’ poems were broadcast on RTÉ’s Arena last May.

Ryan is one of five people selected to represent Ireland, alongside Lucy Fitzgerald, Melissa Kavanagh, Neasa McCormack and Iobhar Stokes.


Stephen travels around Irish schools, helping students create their own slam poetry, and getting rid of any misconceptions they may have about the art form.

Source: Stephen Murray/YouTube

Stephen said his job is incredibly rewarding, and he receives letters on a weekly basis from young people whose lives have been changed for the better because of poetry.

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He said one young rugby player came out as gay to his friends in a poem, while several others – like Ryan – have overcome mental health issues through slam.

I think 15 or 16 is the hardest time of our lives. People think everyone else is sailing through, while they’re struggling … Even the most popular, the cockiest: everyone has their own shit to deal with.

Stephen said the curriculum in schools “works against the art form”, making poetry “almost a dirty word”.

10407559_226845737485827_2492392828114635657_n Source: Stephen Murray

He said he changes young people’s perception of it by “getting them to write about real life”.

Fund it campaign to pay for the group’s flights to Atlanta has raised over €5,000, but Stephen said another €3,000 needs to be collected. He’s also looking for corporate sponsorship.

Stephen noted that other poets raised a lot of the €5,000, as it “really struck a chord with most of the poets in Ireland” as “most poets aren’t getting [financial] support”.

For more information on Brave New Voices click here, or check out Inspire Ireland.

  • Console  1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)

  • Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)

  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie - (suicide, self-harm)

  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)

  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: “Just damn the consequences and see what happens”: Rick O’Shea on his new poetry show

Read: Meet the people making poetry cool again in Ireland

About the author:

Órla Ryan

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