Students encouraged to talk about mental health

The Cycle Against Suicide leaves Omagh Academy last week. (Photo: Michael Cullen)

‘Never  give up… On your yourself, on your dreams and on your future.’

This was the poignant message that was delivered to young Omagh Academy students last Thursday, when hundreds of Cycle Against Suicide cyclists battled the winds and the rain to visit the school.


The ‘Cycle Against Suicide’ initiative started up in 2013 to raise awareness of the considerable help and support that is available for anyone who is battling depression, self-harm, at risk of suicide or those who have been bereaved by suicide.

This year, the cycle across the North and South of Ireland is ten days in total. The important motto ‘It’s okay not to be okay, and it’s absolutely okay to ask for help’ has since become synonymous with the cycle, as have the eye-catching orange vests the participants don as they move from town-to-town.

Speaking from Omagh Academy, Dave Byrne, told the Herald that the cycle is an effective way to dissolve the stigma that surrounds mental health issues.
The 50-year-old has been involved with the initiative since its conception five years ago.

“The cycle, we hope, has given a lot to everyone involved,” he said. “It recharges my battery every year as you get so much back from it. We meet so many new people and hear so many stories of healing in the community. It’s a wonderful opportunity for people to talk and open up about their mental health.”


During the visit, Omagh Academy students aged 11 to 14 were treated to a trio of poignant and inspirational talks from three different speakers involved with Cycle Against Suicide.

Andrew Keegan speaking at Omagh Academy on matters concerning mental health.


In the first talk, local man Andrew Keegan opened up about the mental health problems that he has encountered in his life, and spoke of where he looked for support when he desperately needed it.

Life coach Dominic Bonner, speaker number two, encouraged the students to work hard in their studies and inspired them to follow their dreams no matter the obstacles.

He said that each student was capable of achieving A grades in their GSCE exams – but warned them that the process would be easier if they chose to listen in class… as he found out himself the hard way when he was a teenager!

The third talk, performed by Darryl Johnson asked the students to make sure that they were a shoulder to cry on for their fellow friends. Speaking very candidly, Darryl encouraged the students to be vigilant – if they felt their friend was struggling, be prepared to talk about it.

“A big feature of the talks was minding your mental health, and watching for people around you that might not be in a good place,” Dave added. “Sometimes you can find it hard to ask for help when you need it – but your friends will notice that something is wrong probably a lot quicker than a family member or teacher would.

“I think this type of event is one of the best ways to get people talking about mental health. If we can save even one life, then cycling for days in the pouring rain and freezing winds is all worth it.”


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