Cork: Putting a face on mental health

Cork: Putting a face on mental health

The founders of social enterprise Da Silly Heads use animated workshops and colourful hats and masks to further our understanding of mental illness, writes Derek Nagle

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19th June, 2021

When they founded Da Silly Heads in 2018, Dan O’Mahony and Mike Sikora had one simple aim: they wanted to “put a face on mental health” and help to ease the stigma some people with mental illness still face in Ireland today.

O’Mahony and Sikora started the social enterprise on foot of their own experiences. Both live on the north side of Cork city (Sikora is originally from Poland, but has lived in Ireland for 15 years), and met while they were mature students at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa. promotes mental health advocacy through engaging animated workshops and sells a colourful range of bobble hats and facemasks — dubbed ‘advocacy apparel’ – as a means to encourage conversations on mental health and signal solidarity.

“Our products offer wearers the chance to express their advocacy for mental health in a visual manner and showcase solidarity amongst family, friends and peers,” Sikora explained.

“Our flagship ‘Da Silly Bobble’ hats carry subtle, but impactful, messaging as well as quirky features like a detachable pom-pom to engage people in our concept and to become part of our advocacy circle.”

At the heart of ‘Da Silly Heads’ is a set of colourful animated characters O’Mahony and Sikora created when they met, representing four mental health disorders – anxiety, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Bipolar disorder.

A fifth character, called ‘Brain’, represents “‘us’ – individuals fighting back against ‘Silly Heads’,” O’Mahony said.

This creative approach allows the pair to illustrate the unique characteristics associated with different mental disorders, and show others how they have manifested in their own lives.

“In our Stigma Is Silly workshop, which is delivered either onsite or online, we use our animated Silly Heads to help tell a very personal story with the objective of building awareness, increasing engagement and promoting the power of visual mental health advocacy,” O’Mahony said.

O’Mahony and Sikora run workshops for community groups, secondary school pupils and third-level students at institutions, including Munster Technological University and Galway-​Mayo Institute of Technology.

They also work with numerous corporate clients in Cork, including Janssen Ireland, Stryker and Clearstream.

Now, they have plans to move further afield, offering workshops to more companies and groups around the country, with a clear idea for how they would like to see ‘Da Silly Heads’ movement evolve in the future.

“Becoming synonymous with mental health advocacy in Ireland is our ultimate goal,” they said. “The journey to achieving this has several layers. For now, the development of further animations to work into our workshops is definitely on our short-term radar.”

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