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A beautiful mind Miss Universe Ireland Nadia Sayers hopes mental health struggles will inspire others

Never mind the glitz and glamour, for Miss Universe Ireland Nadia, wearing the crown is about spreading a message of positive mental health for young people

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Force for good: Miss Universe Ireland, Nadia Sayers

Force for good: Miss Universe Ireland, Nadia Sayers

Force for good: Miss Universe Ireland, Nadia Sayers

SHE’s Ireland’s newest beauty queen, but for Tyrone-born Nadia Sayers the journey to Miss Universe was a dark road filled with depression and suicidal thoughts.

The stunning model has opened up about struggling with mental health to clinch one of the most prestigious titles in the pageant world – and her hope for inspiring young people battling mental health issues.

Last month, the Omagh native was crowned Miss Universe Ireland and will represent the island on the global stage at a yet to be decided location as the world continues to evolve with Covid-19.

And in her first in-depth interview after taking the crown, she tells the Sunday World her focus will not be on the glitz and glamour, but giving inspiration to those going through the battles she once faced.

Nadia (26) said: “When I was about 19/20ish, that’s when it kind of hit its peak. It was a difficult time, there were thoughts of taking my own life. Looking back, when you are in the middle of it, you never see it. But my family saw it.

“I always had body image issues and really struggled with the relationship with my body and would have been quite restrictive in what I was eating as well, because I was just not happy with it.

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Nadia Sayers

Nadia Sayers

Nadia Sayers

“Then when I moved to university to do my Bachelors (degree) I developed depression and anxiety disorder.”

Nadia added: “The way I look at it now, I needed to go through that experience to do what I do now.

“Not that it’s necessary, but I learned a lot about me, I learned a lot about being in that position and obviously everyone’s position is different.

“You get a better level of empathy. I was fortunate to have good friends and family around me who spurred me on and got me the help I needed.

“It was a long road, a couple of years of critical psychotherapy and then obviously putting in place my own little coping strategies, my own tools and things that would help you day to day.”

After studying at both Queen’s and Ulster University to achieve a Bachelors and Masters in psychology, the former Omagh Academy pupil began working with the charity Hope 4 Life.

Now based in Belfast, Nadia teaches and trains young people in schools and youth settings how to cope with mental health through the organisation’s Uber Heroes project.

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Nadia Sayers

Nadia Sayers

Nadia Sayers

And it’s become more than just a job for the redhead beauty.

“I wanted to try to be someone who could give advice or help before you get to the stage I got to because one of the issues I had was I didn’t think I deserved help because no major tragedy had happened.

“And I think that’s what one of the biggest misunderstandings around mental health. If you think you have to justify why you don’t feel well.”

The trained psychologist added: “Young people very often don’t think they should be heard, they don’t think anyone will listen or their voice will make an impact.

“We all get caught up in our stresses now and again. Parents aren’t taught – you don’t learn to be a parent and get a guidebook.

“You just wade your way through it. Try to realise how to have those conversations with your kids and try to understand that they may be super-stressed even though they are five, or nine or 15, the stress is still there, it’s just a different stress of different areas of life.”

It was an off-the-cuff remark from a friend that gave the model the inspiration to go into the tough beauty pageant world, which has seen her compete in and win Miss Earth-Water Northern Ireland in 2017; Miss Intercontinental Ireland 2017-18 and now Miss Universe Ireland 2020.

“A friend of mine passed a comment once, ‘imagine you up on stage in a sparkly dress’. So a little bit of stubbornness kicked in and I said, ‘well, I just will get up on that stage’.

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Nadia Sayers

Nadia Sayers

Nadia Sayers

“What I found was, the community that comes with pageantry, the people you meet, the support and how much you learn, that kind of drew me there. But Miss Universe Ireland was always the big one.

“It was such a professional pageant that encompassed so many aspects and always has promoted you to be authentically you.

“It wasn’t trying to fit you into a pageant girl mould. They very much based what you did that year around the person you were.

Nadia added: “I competed in Miss Universe Ireland last year as well which was amazing, I honestly grew so much as a person, and I know that sounds really cheesy to say, but I did.

“They invest so much time into your personal growth and getting to know you and embracing who you are.

“I got into the top 10 last year then stepped away and spent that year working on myself, learning about myself and then when it came around to this year I thought, well it’s going to look a little different this year but at least it’s a story to tell.”

She may have missed out on the confetti and flowers as she was virtually crowned in December, but Nadia is taking every positive from being chosen to be Miss Universe Ireland.

“The whole island of Ireland is under strict restrictions again so I’m going to try to make the most of social media and communicating with charities through Zoom calls and trying to do as much as I can digitally.

“As soon as it is safe to do so, I’m going to go and actually meet people in person, get in at the grassroots and talk to people.

“We are so glad and thankful we have technology to help us work, to do our jobs to an extent, but given the topic I always find it so much better to talk in person.

“I’ll also be prepping for Miss Universe because as it stands, it should still be going ahead for April. Getting my fitness and mindset ready, doing all of my homework.

“Advertising those smaller grassroots charities that are doing phenomenal work and don’t get the recognition they deserve.”

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