Patterson hopes to help end mental health stigma
Clothing brand Need To Talk to be launched this Friday
Ronan Patterson needed help but he didn’t know why, or how. The image the young Ramor United footballer presented to the world was one of contentment – here was a happy and smiling Cavan footballer, an Ulster rugby player, a lad with lots of friends who was doing well in school.
But behind the mask, the teenager was in trouble. In his mid-teens, he developed glandular fever which, he says, “knocked me for six”. Not long afterwards, he began to experience low moods but when a specialist told him that can be a side effect of what he had been through, he dismissed it as something that would pass.
But it didn’t.
“Over time, I thought maybe there was something else happening,” Ronan (21) recalled this week.
“This was all going on between fifth and sixth year in school, I was struggling. I knew something was up and that’s when I went to talk to someone about it. It was all new to me.”
The symptoms of his depression were dreadful.
“I really didn’t care about anything which was unusual because I was kind of an energetic young lad, wanting to do everything, wanting to partake in everything. I wanted to do well in my studies because I wanted to do well in the future but everything just hit a wall really.
“If it was bright outside, I would think it was dull. That’s the best way of explaining it. Nothing seemed to be going well in my head and I felt like I was upsetting a lot of my friends and family, they didn’t see the happier side of me.”
A couple of weeks ago, Patterson shared his experience in a social media post. He has been taking anti-depressant medication for some time now and seeing counsellors. Some work, he says, and some don’t.
“I found that the best way for me to come out of the shell I was in was to just start talking. Start talking to your friends, start talking to your family, start speaking to people… because they could be going through something as well and might be able to help you.
“Just starting talking about something might help you get through something that you didn’t think you’d be able to get through.”
One occasion from his sixth year in Virginia College comes to mind.
“I went into school and just felt awful, horrible. I just didn’t want to be there any more. I texted my brother telling him I didn’t feel well, Mum and Dad were in France at the time. I just felt like there was no getting out of it at the time.
“I got on really well with the counsellor in the school at the time, Fr Jason [Murphy], and he helped me get through it. I am so happy that the likes of Fr Jason was there, that I had someone to speak to at the time. Because at the time, I didn’t think I was going to get out of it.
“It was a horrible time because I should have been putting the head down and studying for the Leaving Cert. You just feel like there’s no way out, you’re trapped. Nothing is going to make you happy again.
“I am the sort of person, when I’m happy, when I’m energetic, I’m always thinking about the future, what I can do next. And there’s just none of that.
“When you’re feeling low, you’re not even looking forward to the next day. You don’t even feel like there is going to be a next day.”
His love for sport dimmed. At different times, he took the decision to drop off panels when he should have been among the star players.
“John Brady was our county minor manager and I knew him well off the field. I had a chat with him and told him that I didn’t feel I’d be adding to the team, that I had no interest at all. He knew something was up then and just sat me down and talked me through it.
“He just gave me a bit more energy to get back to training, he was saying ‘you’ll love to be involved, you’ll have friends for the rest of your life and it will only help you’.
“If I didn’t have people like him helping me to keep going, I don’t think I’d be kicking a ball today.
“That’s the biggest problem with mental health, it’s hidden away. You see the outside perspective but it’s what’s going on inside someone’s head that could be bothering them.”
Over time, as he began to recover, he shared what he was going through with friends. Few had suspected anything was wrong.
“When I was 16, I told one of my best mates that I had gone to the doctor and was on certain medication. He thought I was messing with him, he couldn’t believe it.
“Friends of mine would have been shocked. A lot of lads texted me when I put up that post, ones from county panels I had been on or from the club. They were shocked but they were more than supportive, they were so happy that I was able to come out and say it.”
Patterson is one of the lucky ones and he knows it. He has, he hopes, come through the worst and is managing the condition. Now, he wants to help others.
This Friday at 6pm will see the official launch of his new website, Need To Talk (www.needtotalk.ie), which will showcase a new line of clothing and merchandise. Each item will be emblazoned with the company slogan – Need to talk? – and a portion of profits will be donated to charitable causes in the field.
“I’ve always been himming and hawing about doing something around mental health. Alan O’Mara has done a book regarding it and I have read his story and have been talking to him on and off over the last few years regarding mental health, that was one thing that inspired me.
“I wanted to do something that would benefit people in this area and then I thought ‘why don’t I start to try helping people around Ireland by spreading awareness through online platforms?’
“During the pandemic, online businesses seem to be thriving so I thought it was a good window to get things going.”
In recent months, he has poured himself into starting the fledgling brand, seeking samples, designing logos, constructing a website. He has found himself reaching out to college friends and football teammates and opponents.
“I have been contacting people I knew from college, web designers, marketers, graphic designers.
“I was looking for tips on how to create and set up a business. Then I contacted the Local Enterprise Office in Cavan and they gave me some advice and told me about online courses I can do.
“I am in college doing Quantity Surveying and I work part-time with Shane McAnarney, our coach, he runs a construction company and I’m a trainee QS with him. He has been giving me advice. Just the little bits of the puzzle that you need.
“It’s enjoyable, the more people I am talking to, the more it has spread. It’s been talked about around the county.”
Football contacts have come in handy. Cavan footballer Conor Madden, who has a PPE company, is designing branded face masks while the likes of Cian Mackey have lent their support on social media.
“It’s trying to find the best people to give you advice. I’ve had great support since I started the project,” he says.
And in a way, that’s what it’s all about – leaning on friends and family, coming together to help and looking out for those who may be struggling silently.
“People might not have a mental illness but they might be having down days, something might happen to cause trauma in their lives and I want them to realise that there is help out there. It might not just be depression or anxiety, there is lots of help out there.
“What I want to do is help end the stigma. Encourage people to open the conversation, go up to people and ask them how they feel or how they are keeping. That little talk might help them through to the next day.
“At my age, people like wearing trendy new stuff, something quirky. I just wanted to bring something new and maybe someone would go up to them ask them, ‘where did you get that? What does that mean?’ and it might spark a conversation that they didn’t know they needed to have.”
Finding a common currency – in this case, clothing – can be key, he feels, in giving an individual who may be suffering in silence the confidence to speak up.
“It’s so hard to identify it. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who have got in touch with me and told me their story since I went public with mine. They needed help – it’s out there, they just need to know where to look for it and talk to people.
“If Need To Talk can help one person, it will have all been worth it.”
The website, NeedToTalk.ie, goes live this Friday, September 11, at 6pm. For more information, see Need To Talk accounts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, @needtotalkmentalhealth.