Da Silly Heads: 'Being able to be honest about our feelings is so liberating'

Ciara McDonnell talks to Da Silly Heads' Daniel O'Mahony about breaking down the stigma around mental health
Da Silly Heads: 'Being able to be honest about our feelings is so liberating'

Daniel O'Mahony co-founded Da Silly Heads to reduce stigma around mental health.

I'm the co-founder of Da Silly Heads along with Michal Sikora, which we launched just before the arrival of Covid-1. I'm also a father - I'm married and have two kids. Da Silly Heads came about as a way of telling a very personal story of my struggles with mental health and mental health wins. I think that people forget about the wins along the way.

Michal and I created a set of cartoon characters - the idea was to externalise the feelings we were having in order to take the labels and stereotypes that can be placed on various mental health conditions. The cartoons depicted these feelings in real-life situations that we had experienced, and we put one a week out on social media. The response was immediate. We found that people were relating to our characters and also to the situations that they found themselves in.

We thought that there might be an opportunity to pursue a social enterprise centred around the idea of breaking down the stigma around mental health, and Da Silly Heads was born. We created a bobble hat that would signify solidarity to anyone who is going through a tough time, and then we went on to develop workshops on a new concept called Visual Mental Health Advocacy, using our own story, told with of our Silly Heads.

I have been living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder since my mid-teens. I don't have the words to describe the kind of exhaustion that living with this can lead to, let alone the shame and the embarrassment that came along with it. 

Sleep was my only relief. I remember being in bed, and it being too much effort to turn over and free my arm, which was numb beneath me. I was thinking at that time that suicide had to be the best way out. I had tried medication, the GP, exercise.

One of my friends literally broke into my house to get me out of bed. I had closed all the blinds in my bedroom to keep the light of this beautiful summer's day out, and he physically dragged me out of the bed. We went to a mountain to climb it and it was one of the best moments of my life. 

Standing there with him, I felt myself turn a corner for that particular episode and I learned that when everything appears lost if you have people around you, it's not lost at all.

We always knew that Da Silly Heads would go online. We are building it up to be a one-stop-shop for wellbeing. In that way, the pandemic had very little effect on our business plan. We were very, very lucky that we launched in the middle of the pandemic - we didn't have to deviate at all.

We had an extremely tough time, personally. Michal's wife Lesil died from cancer in May as this crazy pandemic was beginning. 

Lesil was a huge part of Da Silly Heads, all the way back to when we were just scribbling ideas on the back of envelopes. We only had a handful of people who were there to motivate us at every step of the way and to believe in us and Lesil was a huge part of that.

Really, in ourselves, we took those first months of the pandemic to turn inwards. It was a time for me as a friend to support my friend Michal. We have a very close circle of friends, Michal is originally from Poland and the lockdown made everything seem smaller.

Focusing on supporting my friend through grief at this very unusual time became my main concern. All my energy went into communicating with him and trying to pass on what I have learned in my dealings with mental health to help ease his suffering.

Being able to be honest about our feelings is so liberating. It has been unbelievably helpful to both of us in the last year. Right now, I am in a very heightened period of anxiety. I am in high functioning anxiety right now, so I can go about my business but the last week has brought lots of physical symptoms up for me. 

Yesterday I said to Mike, 'I'm not feeling great, and this is how it's manifesting in my body.' If you were a fly on the wall watching two fellas with coloured bobble hats on and big beards, discussing the rationale behind my feelings - what would you be thinking? I can tell you, I am grateful for it.

  • If you want to learn more about the story of Da Silly Heads you can find more information at www.dasillyheads.com 
  • Local Enterprise Week 2021 will take place from Monday 1st March to Friday 5th March, 2021. LEO Cork City clients - Da Silly Heads - will be running a mental health visual advocacy workshop during the week. For further information on the list of the free events and activities taking place in Cork City during Local Enterprise Week visit www.localenterprise.ie/corkcity

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