Comedian, social media star and CIF Safety Ambassador Rory O’Connor talks to Barry McCall about his mental health struggles and how talking to someone changed his life.
Anyone who has ever seen the hilarious Rory Stories ‘The useless lad on every building site’ YouTube clip will know that creator Rory O’Connor has had at least some experience of the industry.
Indeed, the Ashbourne, Co Meath native and CIF Safety Ambassador was briefly an apprentice electrician during a short-lived construction career before launching his hugely successful Rory’s Stories social media video blog (vlog).
However, few people watching his funny online videos or attending his live shows would realise he has suffered from severe self-doubt and other mental health issues over the years. But he is sharing those darker stories with others now to help them address their own mental health problems.
“It’s okay to talk about mental health issues,” he begins. “The stigma is starting to change a little. Thirty years ago, nobody talked about depression or anxiety, but people are starting to talk about these things now. I believe that the more people that talk openly about it, the sooner the stigma will break down.
CIF Safety Ambassador
Rory O’Connor joined the CIF team at Ireland Skills Live in March, where he was announced as Safety Ambassador for the year. He has since completely immersed himself into this role, using it to highlight the importance of health and safety and good mental health, especially in the construction industry. He is active on CIF social media and is giving toolbox talks with a difference in the build-up to Construction Safety Week in October.
He says he was pleased to link up with CIF on this important initiative.
“I was approached about doing some talks about mental health during Construction Safety Week, and I was delighted to do it,” he says. “It’s something I’m extremely passionate about it. I talk to people about my own journey. I struggled a lot while I was in school and suffered from depression in my mid-20s. I reached out for help and got it.”
He speaks frankly about his schooldays and his early career.
“I just wasn’t academically smart,” he recalls. “I struggled with reading and writing, and I had problems with the education system. I thought I was stupid because I wasn’t good in the classroom. But you can’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree. It’s something I am very passionate about. Everyone has something they are good at, and they should be encouraged to find that.”
Rory found the Leaving Certificate Applied more suited to him than the traditional option.
“It was great for me. It meant I wasn’t going to struggle for two years just to get 140 points or something like that.”
On leaving school, he took a post-leaving certificate course and started as an apprentice electrician, before dropping out of both quite quickly.
“I realised almost straight away this was not for me.” He worked in several sales and office positions but was still unhappy. “I realised I was never going to be the CEO,” he notes with a laugh. “I started gambling at 16 or 17 years of age, and the problem just grew. I was too fond of it. I was gambling on the phone and in the bookies. I’d pay the bills and waste far too much of the rest on gambling. A while after I met Emma, now my wife, I broke down to her and admitted the extent of my problem and told her I wasn’t in a good place. I then made a phone call, reached out for help, and that changed everything. It proved to be my turning point. I started to face up to my issues and think about what I wanted to do with my life. I was always good at telling stories, and I started putting them on Facebook. It all started from there.”
Addressing Mental Health Issues
Rory O’Connor is delighted to have this rare opportunity to help people in the construction industry struggling with mental health issues.
“The feedback from my talks is very positive,” he continues. “A few people have come up to me afterwards saying they really appreciated it. It helps make it acceptable to be struggling. We need to change the mindset around mental health. I’m looking forward to doing more events with CIF between now and into Construction Safety Week in October.”
Workers’ Mental Wellbeing
Rory O’Connor agreed to act as an ambassador for the CIF for Construction Safety Week 2019, which will run for the week commencing Monday, 21st October. He has also undertaken a series of toolbox talks on ‘Positive Mental Health and Lifestyle’ on construction sites across the country in recent months. CIF chose Rory O’ Connor as its Safety Ambassador owing to his innate ability to create relatable, entertaining sketches of day to day activities. Rory’s toolbox talks include a comedy routine and an open discussion on mental health and drink awareness.
While CIF is leading efforts on this crucial issue at a national level, many individual member firms are also doing excellent work on it. Among these is Keating.
“We recognise the importance of positive mental health and the role that the workplace has in contributing to positive mental and physical wellbeing,” says Gordon O’Regan, Chief Executive Officer, Keating. “The mental health and wellbeing of a workforce are important in achieving wider health and safety objectives in the workplace. We are also acutely aware of the statistics around the incidents of suicide in Ireland, particularly the high percentages of men in this situation.
“Investing in mental health is integral to retaining our team, and at Keating, we want to support our people and remove the stigma associated with mental health issues,” Gordon O’Regan adds. “We actively encourage our employees to talk to one another, and we host ‘safe-tea and biscuits’ events on our sites every month.”