Laura Beston and I became friends back during our first year of college in Dublin. During the years that have passed, Beston and I have both been through a lot and have changed as people, but we still both hold activism close to out hearts.
In our second year of college, Beston and I worked together on raising awareness and advocating for disability rights. In January 2017, we held a protest outside of the Dail for the ratification of the UNCRPD. Beston recalls this as the “catalyst” to what got her really involved in activism and social justice.
In her adolescence, Beston was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and perfectionism. Beston hails from Co. Mayo. Having moved to Dublin when she finished secondary school, she began to study English and Film in Trinity College Dublin. Now in her fourth and final year of her course, the workload is piling up, but that hasn’t stopped her from getting involved in grassroot movements that have recently sprung up in Trinity and around Dublin.
Beston got involved in activism and charity from a very young age, “my family had a big focus on disability and supporting others from the start”. Back home in Mayo, Beston grew up with her two sisters. Her older sister, Aoife, was diagnosed with varying disabilities even before Laura was born. Having Aoife by her side taught Beston a lot of what she now knows about disability.
Beston first started getting involved with the cause by helping to raise money for charity, but realised that “while raising money and supporting charities is important, and changing things now matters, working towards a long term effect through policy can help so many more people”. Beston regularly attends protests and has spoken publically about activism and the current housing crisis.
“My remits go beyond disability, but it’s always going to be a passion of mine”, Beston states as she goes on to explain how disability activism can impact other social issues: “there a refugees with disabilities, the are homeless people with disabilities, and so on…”
This year, Beston is TCDSU’s Officer for Students with Disabilities, and she really hopes to spark a conversation about disability in the college community – specifically mental health issues. The past few years has brought a lot of progress in how society views mental health, but there is still a lot to be done until it becomes completely destigmatised.
To highlight this issue, Beston points to the recent statistic published by the UK’s National Statistics Office that revealed that there were 221 young men and 76 women who commited suicide in Northern Ireland last year. The main problem? The lack of transparency and the silence on the issue.
“Using your voice is important. There are so many people who want to speak up that don’t have the platform or the tools to speak”, said Beston, referring to her last point. Man and young men, in particular, can often feel embarrased about the state with their mental health and struggle to ask for the help they need.
“There is a need for community. That’s how Repeal happened. That’s how marriage equality happened” said Beston when I asked how she thinks this situation can change. She was quick to comment that it’s the total lack of togetherness that drives people into silence about their sturuggles. Beston expresses that the disconnect between society and those in charge (the government) is a huge barrier to trying to make things happen.
Even though she is in the final year of her degree, Laura does not intend to give up her passion for activism – even if this means missing out on precious library and study time. On a final note, Beston says that it is absolutely vital to focus on the good, the bad and the ugly parts about having a mental illness and the eternal process of recovery.