My name is Leanne Coyle, I'm 22 years old. I'm a photographer and before Christmas, decided I wanted to start a project that would be of meaning. I've spent so long taking pictures that carried little or no meaning, I decided it was time to change that.
Mental illness is something I'm only too familiar with. I was diagnosed with bulimia when I was 15. I was suffering in silence for a long time because I was too afraid to tell anyone. On the outside I was just the same old Leanne, nothing on the exterior had changed. My school days during that time began to get very lonely, I began to realise how lonely it can be even though you're part of a crowd. I felt like I was completely isolated, I began to drift further and further away from everyone. Up until the point, I was eating my lunch alone in the school bathrooms.
It was like I was fighting a battle inside my own head and had been split into two different people. I was so lucky that our school had a chaplain. Only for her, I don't think I'd be here. She helped me through so many situations. The eating disorder let to depression and extreme anxiety. I was sent to a psychiatric doctor in the clinic and given antidepressants. I feel like medication is the country's immediate option to mental health issues which really needs to change. I was trying to study for my leaving cert and I was completely zombified.
If mental health education was introduced into the education system, I honestly think the country would be a lot more prepared for issues such as depression, eating disorders and mental illness in general.
It took a long time for me to recover but I recovered. I just had to reconnect with what was most important and the support that was surrounding me, my family, my co-workers and my friends. I wouldn't have been able to do it without them.
I always knew I wanted to help people but it's important to help yourself before you can begin to help others. We're all here to love and be loved, I think. Real love starts with self-love and, self-love begins with you.
So I decided to use my love of photography to create a platform to help and cheer up as many people as I could. The brilliant thing about the page is its simplicity. I remember when I was going through the worst of my health, if someone would stop to smile or say hello it meant more to me than anything. That small positive break in your negative train of thought can literally change the course of your day. So I think that's why the page has become so popular. It's real people, it's real stories, it's real smiles. It's a breath of fresh air into the world of social media we're all so used to.
I think it's important that the people who have experience speak out in order to educate and guide our youth. There are hundreds of thousands of people facing mental illness for the first time and they don't know where to turn. It's up to us, the people with the experience to try and help out those who are struggling.
The response to the page has been unbelievable. We try to keep to the original plan of taking a picture of someone new every day but it has gotten to the point where people are so eager to talk that they're sending their picture into the page. It was literally been spread all across the country which is absolutely phenomenal.
At the end of the day, if the page can help one person, our job is done. I don't think it's awareness that the country has lost but instead our togetherness. We all know what mental health is, we're all aware of it. But knowing about a problem is no good unless you attempt to fix it. And that's where the page comes in. It's giving people a platform and a voice to speak out and shake the stigma that has connected itself to mental health.
The page Leanne created is called Smileforme2018 and you can find it on Facebook and Instagram.
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