The charity Shine has been working hard across the month of September with its ‘Green Ribbon’ campaign to help end the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

To date, the charity has distributed 500,000 green ribbons across Ireland in an effort to spread awareness, as well as hosting events, running social media campaigns and supporting workplaces and the general public to start having open and honest conversations about mental health.

With the help of ambassadors, Shine is aiming to connect with people from different demographics, including the farming community, says CEO Nicola Byrne.

“In farming there is an awful lot of external stressors that can impact people’s mental health at the same time,” she acknowledges, explaining that these can range from social isolation to challenges in family dynamics.

Nicola emphasises that mental health is as important as a person’s physical health. But while stigma and judgement surrounding mental health in the farming industry is very much still an issue, she feels that there has been an improvement.

Nicola Byrne, CEO Shine

“I think COVID-19 helped us have conversations about mental health. I also think that those working in agriculture are much more aware of the risks when they’re calling us for different reasons,” she says.

Certainly, Shine’s mental health ambassadors are helping to shift the narrative and break down barriers around seeking help.

“They are volunteers and what we have found is when somebody hears another person’s story and they hear it directly from that person, they really understand. When you hear someone’s story, it humanises the experience,” Nicola says.

Patrick Hipwell - Dairy farmer

Having lost his brother to suicide over 19 years ago, Patrick Hipwell first got involved with Shine when he was the county chair of Macra. Macra was looking for people to take part in a campaign. Being a dairy farmer from Co Wexford, Patrick started wrapping bales in green to spread awareness, as well as speaking at events.

“It’s very important to talk and open up about your mental health issues, because if you have a problem and don’t tell anyone about it, no one knows how to fix it,” he says.

Nibhroini Byrne,Patrick Hipwell,Minister for Mental Health & Older people, Mary Butler TD, James Brown TD for Wexford, Chloe O'Leary and Patrick Jordan at the mental health awareness mass in Ballindaggin

Patrick believes that isolation is a major contributory factor and advises anyone who is struggling with their mental health to find something they enjoy doing rather than being at home on their own the whole time - for example, go to your local pub for dinner, or get out on farm walks.

Patrick sings in his local church choir, which he says is a very good way to get out, talk and meet people as well. “Find something you enjoy and get a bit of enjoyment and craic out of it,” he says.

Sheila Naughton - Radio broadcaster

As well as working in radio across rural areas of Ireland, Sheila Naughton from Wicklow has spent the last few years as a Shine ambassador.

“About five years ago, I got diagnosed with an eating disorder and that started my journey into accepting I was sick or accepting I had an eating disorder,” she says of her own path into active recovery.

For someone who might be supporting a family member or friend who might be unwell, Sheila has this advice: “You can’t make them better, all you can do is support them to come to that realisation themselves. You don’t have to try and find the solutions, you just have to be supportive,” she says.

As for any individual who may be struggling themselves, Sheila stresses that “you’re justified to get help at any stage.”

“You don’t have to be on death’s door, you don’t have to be at your lowest: we should be getting help before we’re at that stage,” she says. CL

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