How to come up smiling

TWO teenage next-door neighbours, from Dublin 15, have spearheaded a project to change conversations about mental health.

Inspired by Swedish research that shows children smile 400 times a day, but adults do so only 20 times, Mark McMahon, 16, and Eric Hughes, 15, want people to smile, so they’ve created www.15smiles.ie 

Via uplifting pictures and inspiring quotes, the boys are spreading positivity. Their campaign began after They noticed that much information coming their way about mental health was negative. Speakers would come to their schools (Mark’s in Blakestown Community School; Eric’s at Hartstown Community School) and impart “a lot of information about depression and suicide”.

“Nobody talked about how to keep mentally positive,” says Mark. “It was all about ‘if you’re feeling under the weather, come and talk to us; if you’re depressed, get out and get active’.”

“If they showed us photos of 20 children, only one would be a picture of a happy child,”says Eric.

Feeling there was “no talk about positive mental health”,The boys created www.15smiles.ie to “bring people up” and give them good vibes. “It’s a simple idea to help people smile more. We believe mental health information should focus more on what helps us to be healthy mentally and not on the consequences of poor mental health. Our message is: if people are able to find more things to smile about, they will be happier and better able to deal with life when it gets difficult.”

Mark’s – whose hobbies are football and fishing in the Tolka River with Eric – says his favourite uplifting quotes are ‘A bad attitude is like a flat tyre: you can’t go anywhere until you change it’ and ‘if an opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door’. He has his own saying : ‘you don’t have to be the best, as long as you’re better than you were yesterday’. Eric likes ‘if you believe you can, you’re halfway there’.

Many of the inspirational lines on www.15smiles.ie are about failure, to help young people who are “afraid to try something different, and to challenge themselves, because they fear failure”.

Their project grew out of Barnardos’ Amplifying Voices, which gives young people a helping them identify issues in their community that affect them and facilitating them to have their voice.

Tim Stewart, of Barnardos’ Amplifying Voices, says: “15 Smiles shows that when young people are given space to look at issues that affect them, they can come up with very creative and effective solutions. “Mark and Eric realised the information they were hearing at school about mental health was very negative – rather than leave it at that, their approach was ‘how can we do something different about this’?” Visit www.barnardos.ie 

Top tips From www.15smiles.ie :

* “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you’re doomed if you don’t try.”

* “The greatest accomplishment isn’t never falling, but in rising again after you fall.”

* ”When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad – that’s my religion.”

* ”The best revenge is massive success.”


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