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In Support of the Winning Minds Movement

Why I’m supporting Derek O’ Kelly in his quest to bring

Winning Minds Movement to the masses:

I was sitting in my office one Saturday morning and I received the most terrifying call, the likes of which I hope I never receive again. My friend had gone missing. This call was especially disturbing because for the previous weeks we had spent countless hours discussing a growing mental health issue, and several afternoons sitting in various doctors’ offices trying to arrange appointments to discuss declining mental health and medication problems. This was an ongoing problem, so our concerns were real. The culmination of this call was a frantic search that eventually led to a hospital.

We’d been asking for help, and it just never came.

My friend had taken an overdose and during the episode and suffered severe physical injuries to their body and face, damage on a level I never seen before. I’m not somebody easily phased, but walking into that room and seeing their face, will genuinely haunt me forever. This was somebody I cared about greatly and there was just nobody there to listen.

The most frustrating, disheartening and painful part of all of this was that after

a very real suicide attempt, help remained scarce.

Without doubt, there is a major disconnect between the kind of supports people need in Ireland, and the level of supports available. I am all too aware that in many cases there are exceptional and hardworking staff who want to help, but they are jaded. They are jaded because they too are failed by a system which in recent years has sought to cut funding for mental health. In 2016, our now Taoiseach thought it appropriate to cut funding for mental health services to the tune of 35m. In 2018, we have reports of a 46 % surge in third level students registering as having mental health conditions. This is in some places attributed to better supports available and to less stigma, I’m not convinced.

There are some points to consider here, third level institutions are useful areas of study and research, but do not represent the wider community in Ireland. I would also question the point on availability of supports, even within universities. Experience as a student and then as a lecturer involved in mentoring and student support, and who just on a very basic level, took a genuine interest in students, has shown me that students do not always receive the support needed. While a counsellor won’t turn you away, in my university, a student could avail of only eight sessions with a counsellor. What about those who need more? Counselling isn’t something that fits such an absolute timescale, and it is by no means the fault of the counsellors. It once again comes back to a poorly funded, over required situation.

I think what occurs to me with most impact, is that mental health issues don’t suddenly occur in adults, or even young adults, they are present in childhood too. According to Mental Health Ireland, One in ten children experience mental health problems. Again, I would argue that this is not entirely representative of the reality. There are children in schools all over this country who go undiagnosed with learning difficulties for many years and consider our prisons and the level of undiagnosed mental health disorders. Most parents are not sufficiently aware of how these problems manifest, or how they can impact a child and so never seek support. This is not through ignorance as such, but I know my parents wouldn’t have been capable of recognizing a mental health difficulty in childhood.

For the most part, our world view in formed and expectations are created in childhood based on our interactions during this time. Having worked in education for period, I saw first had the impact of neglectful parenting on the physical and mental wellbeing of children. I’ve always been an advocate of offering parents support and education. According to the National Youth Mental Health Task Force report from 2017, ‘Families play a key role in the development of health and wellbeing. We recognise that it is essential, particularly for younger children, to consider the mental health needs of the child or young person in the context of the family environment. People come to parenthood with different capacities, different beliefs and values.’

It is claimed that there is less stigma around mental health, however, evidence suggests otherwise. 'Almost seven out of 10 (67%) viewed being treated for a mental health difficulty as a sign of personal failure.' If a parent was raised in a place or period when mental health was a factor that went unrecognised, or worse still, was to be hidden or condemned, how likely are they to be able to respond in a supportive manner. So many advances in thinking around mental health have been made relatively recently. Equally, there are new stresses and expectation foisted on children today that weren’t an issue even a decade ago. Anxiety levels are higher, stressors are more common and of course there are infinitely more pitfalls that threaten the mental wellness of all people in Ireland, the ever-looming threat of another recession, the housing crisis, etc. It would be impossible for any parent outside the field of psychology to stay abreast of new studies.

More needs to be done to help parents and teachers

recognize, understand and support

children and young people with mental health issues!

Mental health, even just feelings, basic pure feelings, that we all have, all day every day, are not exactly subject for discussion. Obviously, that’s not the case for everyone but certainly in my experience, we in Ireland are far less likely than our European neighbours to discuss feelings, and that goes double for our Scandinavian cousins. I’m am constantly surprised and pleased to hear European people openly discuss their feelings in the way that just seems honest. At times it can appear naïve, but it also seems infinitely healthier than bottling up emotions and waiting for the weekend.

There’s an old adage, ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’ I’m a firm believer in the power of the community, sharing and collaboration. I feel strongly that developing communities around the narrative of mental health and wellness is fundamental to supporting those in need and who feel failed by our current poorly funded mental health system. If we can’t depend on our government, we can at least depend on each other. I have seen the benefits of this as a mentor. I have also spoken to many people, young and old, who have gained greatly from peer support groups. I am aware of the incredible impact of support groups, having set them up among secondary students and later through peer support groups and student to student supports. Certainly, when these young people go on to have children of their own, the topic of mental wellness and mental health will be open for discussion.

'It takes a village to raise a child'

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Derek O’ Kelly, a man with a fascinating story. After long periods of research into relevant areas of psychology and neuropsychology, Derek is in the process of developing a system whereby people can network and engage to discuss mental wellness with an emphasis on prevention. Derek's belief, ‘Why not lay healthy wiring from the outset,’ and I couldn’t agree more. Derek, is Ireland’s first Mental Wellbeing Explorer, and he wants to create a conversation that brings parents and their children together with a view to establishing a strong foundation of mental wellness. This approach certainly fits with educated opinion, Prof. Jim Lucey and Derek share a belief in prevention over cure. According to Lucey, ‘Prevention is always better than cure. Illness prevention is the reason we need to learn as early as possible how to promote resilience and become mindful and well.’

Derek’s Winning Minds Movement is formed on the premise that an emphasis on wellness from an early age is key to tackling our crippling mental health issue in Ireland. BY providing educators and parents with information and access to research as well as community support, Derek is aiming to ‘tip the balance in favour of positive outcomes, and reduce the possibilities of mental distress and the associated collateral damage.’

I’m prepared to throw my weight behind this effort, as it seems there are many healthcare professionals and innovators, and there’s no real surprise in that. Apart from Derek's incredible capacity to motivate and inspire people, who could possibly argue with an endeavor that seeks to ‘empower people with the skills and knowledge to strengthen their mind - and nurture healthy ones in their children.’

If it helps anyone to avoid that phone call, or similar, then I’m all in.

(I’ve purposely kept the opening paragraphs vague.

While it’s my experience, it’s not my story alone.)

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