Aoife Butler is the 2023 Sydney Rose of Tralee and works as a Mental Health Clinical Nurse Educator in the emergency department at St. Vincent’s Hospital Sydney. She is currently pursuing a master’s in mental health and is passionate about advocating for mental health awareness and being a positive role model in the Irish/Australian community. Here, she honours her late brother’s memory and shares an important message as she reflects on mental health and emigration to mark World Mental Health Day (10 October). Read more about our inaugural campaign here.
*CONTENT WARNING: please be advised that this post contains references to suicide awareness. Find support resources here and below the article.*
My name is Aoife Butler and I am this year’s Sydney Rose of Tralee. Originally from a small village in Co. Wexford, Ireland, I came to Australia just before the pandemic in 2019.
Like many of us Irish expats, I was leaving my homeland of Ireland unsure of where the future would take me, how long I was going to stay for, and the worry of would I feel like I’ve “failed” if I all of a sudden wanted to come home.
For me, Australia was a lingering adventure, one that started out from a dream that was once my brother Matthew’s.
Matthew left for Australia after his 21st birthday and spent three-and-a-half years here in Sydney, “living the dream,” as he would often say. His dream then quickly became mine, whilst studying my nursing degree in mental health he would often encourage me to come out one day and experience the lifestyle Sydney and Australia had to offer. And that was my goal.
However, life likes to challenge us, and I quickly learned that things do not always turn out as you expect. In 2016 when travelling in San Diego getting ready to start my final year of university, I got the phone call every person dreads to hear. My big brother Matthew had passed away. News that devastated us all.
In a moment my life changed forever, and I felt my own future was uncertain. However, through sheer determination and drive to live my life for not just myself but now for my brother Matthew, I came to Australia with a one-way ticket on my own. On a journey not only of emigration, but that too of grief. I was now a qualified mental health nurse, experiencing all of the feelings of emigration, in many ways complicated by the grief of my brother. But I quickly learned that although there have been many times where it has been a challenging and an ever changeable journey, it is one that has helped heal and build me up to the person I am today.
Fast-forward to now, in August, just past the month of my beloved brother’s seventh anniversary, I represented Sydney back home in Ireland at the international Rose of Tralee Festival. I am here in Australia four years, now a permanent resident studying my master’s in mental health. I am very proud of my story and the person I am now, but it is important to know that when times are tough and life gets hard, no one can do it all alone. There is help out there. Just like the help of the Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project and many more.
Since becoming the Sydney Rose, I have been driven to use my platform to not only tell my story, but also to highlight the importance of mental health and be a representative for my Irish community abroad.
My brother Matthew unfortunately passed away by taking his own life, and for many years it was something I found hard to understand, despite my profession. But it’s important to know, that we can all seem like we are “living the dream” and still be struggling. That everyone has a mental health that they are trying to keep well. The grass is only greener where you water it, no matter where that may be. And I truly believe understanding and learning about ones mental health and what we need to do to keep well is a valuable tool we should all have.
If you are struggling in ANY way, please know that there is help out there, both here in Australia, back home in Ireland and now with the organisations like Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project that help connect people all over the world.
Although as expats we often leave our humble abode for a better life experience or job opportunities, things can still feel hard at times and we all have mental health that we need to look after. At times, we may even feel torn or homesick. But help is there, and you can overcome these challenges just like I have and continue to do. I am so grateful for the Irish community here in Sydney, from GAA teams like the Central Coast to the Irish Support Agency and now the Rose of Tralee family which I have gained. Through tough times I have learned and grown, but through reaching out and community supports, I have a life here in Sydney that I love so much, no matter how long or short that might be for.
October is Mental Health Month and the 10th is World Mental Health Day. If you need it, take the step you’ve always wanted to take, whether it to be to travel, return home, speak to someone about your mental health or maybe just to reach out to supports and get involved. Whatever it may be, as the saying goes, “You only regret the chances you didn’t take.”
*If you have been affected by the content of this post or may know someone who is struggling, please reach out or call any of the below numbers:
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Pieta House: 1800 247 247
Samaritans Ireland: 116 123
You can find more wellness support resources on our Minding Yourself page here.
Our sincere thanks to Aoife for sharing her powerful story. We are absolutely honoured to have her serve as an mental health ambassador for Crosscare Irish Diaspora Support Project. You can follow along on Aoife’s journey on Instagram @aoife_abbie and @sydenyroseoftralee.