At a time of great economic, social and personal challenge, non-judgmental conversations about mental health have never been more important.
One Cork duo who are continuing to break down the stigma is Daniel O’Mahony and Michal Sikora, founders of Da Silly Heads.
The pair instantly clicked when they met in Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa back in 2015 and three years later founded Da Silly Heads, an innovative business creating apparel with positive mental health slogans to encourage peer to peer conversation around the world.
The first product the company launched was a bobble hat featuring a detachable bobble to change colour depending on the wearer’s preference or mood, along with the subtle advocacy message ‘Stigma Free Head’.
In the coming months, Daniel and Michal are hoping to expand their offering to include more advocacy apparel as well as holding their first mental health workshop.
"A lot of hours are being put in behind the scenes to ensure we bring something of immense value to communities not only in Cork but across the country.
"A big part of the work going on is the development of our apparel range, or as we sometimes refer to it, clothing with purpose.
"We are known for our functional and highly impactful bobble hats, which have shown us the appetite there is for clothing that supports a cause, in our case, visibly promoting mental health advocacy, empathy, and togetherness in our communities.
"Our online store, which will be launched this summer, will have a range of products available to people looking to bring mental health advocacy to the next level," Daniel told.
"Running alongside our clothing is our ability to design and deliver workshops to bring our whole vision full circle.
"We are now developing our first workshop centred on mental health advocacy, what it is and how it can benefit individuals and society to become the best version of themselves.
"We see the workshop being of benefit to businesses, schools, universities/colleges and local community groups, especially in the aftermath of the current situation we are going through.
"Naturally, we have had to shift in new ways of delivering the workshop, so a virtual component is now also in the process.
"As we get back to normality in the coming months, we are expecting a lot more focus on mental health issues, across a number of sectors," he continued.
Visual impact continues to play a significant role in the delivery of Da Silly Heads’ message.
"Our whole project started with a set of cartoon characters, each of whom represents a mental health experience we have lived through, and in my case still do.
"They tell our story through sketches on our Instagram platform, as a way of externalizing the labels that can be attached to mental illnesses," Daniel explained.
Given the numerous challenges the Covid-19 pandemic has presented, Daniel and Michal believe more people will be seeking out support services in the near future.
"We think the current crisis is, unfortunately, going to really impact negatively on people’s mental wellbeing.
"I don’t think we as people will have experienced anything like this on so many levels, economically, socially, emotionally, and mentally.
"In our view, we will most likely see a surge in the numbers of people looking to receive mental health support, especially in those who have never experienced it before, and that can be daunting and unsettling," Daniel said.
Although they are not professionals, Da Silly Heads social media platforms are open to people to direct message if they are feeling overwhelmed.
As well as this, Daniel and Michal have been using their platform to spread positivity.
Daniel, who struggles with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) says social media, particularly during Covid-19, can often leave people feeling inadequate.
"We have seen so many posts, strategies, tips etc. on what you should be doing to be productive during the pandemic.
"However, we are all individuals who move at our own pace and take different routes to get to where we want to be," he said.
"Sometimes if we stop, pause and reset, we end up achieving more in the long run."
Over the years Daniel and Michal have acquired coping mechanisms which have personally helped them to alleviate feelings of distress.
They both credit physical activity as something that’s helped them with their emotional wellbeing.
"Move – You hear it so much, exercise is great for the mind but when I was experiencing massive depressive episodes I couldn’t turn in the bed as it was too much for me, let alone going for a run.
"My commitment to myself at that time was to start a journey from the bed to the shower.
"That was my mountain, my battle for weeks.
"Every day it felt like I was running 10k to move 10 steps.
"However, I knew if I made this trek on a daily basis, it would move me onto the next base camp, very much like you would do climbing a mountain and this strategy slowly started to become an important part of diluting these dark episodes.
"So, if it’s moving in whatever capacity, big or small, give yourself the opportunity to conquer that commitment to yourself,” Daniel said.
Da Silly Heads also underscore the importance of talking to people – likening this act to "weight training for the mind".
"Chatting to an individual or individuals you trust and feel will be emphatic to your experience will prove hugely beneficial in working out a blueprint for overcoming the situation at hand.
"It could be a family member, a friend, a teacher/lecturer or even services like Pieta House or Samaritans.
"Having somebody there that you can call, message or zoom on a regular basis is something that still proves worthwhile for us when we are experiencing bad days," Daniel said.
Daniel has also created what he describes a "safety box" containing things like old photographs, messages of encouragement and other things that evoke happy memories for him.
"It’s a very simple idea but has an extremely powerful impact," he said.
He also credits having a good GP as an important step in starting a recovery journey.
"Having a good GP can be so important on starting a journey of recovery.
"I used to always feel a sense of guilt or shame calling up, making yet another appointment with my GP, but I’ve come to learn this is very normal, totally acceptable, and is absolutely the best course of action in looking after you."
As Ireland gradually begins to reopen the economy, Daniel believes more could be done to help people in what could be a challenging transition into a new normal.
"The government can assist these people in trying to get back into employment again through various schemes, but if during that process, a plan is not in place to manage what looks like the overwhelming increase in poor mental health, then a bigger issue arises, costing the government even more capital to rectify.
"I think the government and local authorities really need to start rolling in behind community led groups and organisations.
"Giving the people on the ground as many resources as possible to tackle the issues at an organic and more human level.
"I think a lot of the time we leapfrog communities, volunteer groups, organisations that operate in and amongst those most in need," he said.
"Mental health issues, unfortunately, are going to be an issue that rises and rises the longer the restrictions remain, so putting a strategy in place for training, educating, and funding social enterprises, community organisations, and volunteer groups may become a vital move in getting our country back on track."
To keep up to date with Da Silly Heads news and events follow their Instagram and Facebook page or visit their website, https://dasillyheads.com/