Congratulations to all who took part in Northside Minds, a seminar that explored the issue of mental health and wellbeing, at Parnell’s GAA Club this week.

The community seminar was organised by a group called LÁMH – Learning About Mental Health, graduates of the Northside Partnership’s Young Community Leaders programme. A range of speakers shared their experiences in front of a live audience through informative talks, and in some cases, performance! The line-up included behaviour scientist Carol Conway on the topic of embracing life with all its imperfections, panellists talking about the benefits of volunteering, and principal Peter Keohane from Donahies Community School on the role of wellbeing in education.

Launching the LÁMH seminar, Northside Partnership CEO Paul Rogers emphasised the importance of promoting a community where everyone feels valued and supported.

Up first was behavioural scientist Carol Conway who spoke  about embracing life and all its imperfections. Peppering personal anecdotes with scientific wisdom, she entertained the audience with helpful tips and even a song (‘Whistle a Happy Tune’ from Hollywood musical ‘The King & I.’) Detailing the scientific processes that document our moods, she shared strategies for shutting down our critical inner voice. These include setting ourselves limits, not being afraid to say no, and keeping physically active.  “We all struggle with anxiety, depression and low moods – we all get colds,” she said. “Life is one great big beautiful mess and once we embrace this mess and stop pretending everything’s okay, we are no longer afraid.”

Physical wellbeing

The next speaker was Michelle Waters, sports officer from Dublin City Council Sports and Wellbeing Partnership. In an impressive address, she explained how thirty minutes of exercise per day has a positive effect on mild to moderate depression. This is because as you exercise, the powerful endorphins released into the body  can improve your mood and ease stress. Attendees also heard that physically active people have a 40% higher chance of achieving better results in exams, are 80% more likely to go to college, and have a higher earning potential. Michelle concluded by challenging the audience to “Get out there and get moving.”

The Clubhouse Experience

During the event, attendees also heard from guest speakers who shared personal journeys of resilience.

These included Thomas Crosby and Aideen Bickerdike from Suaimhneas Clubhouse, a Darndale-based community of people working together towards the goal of mental health recovery. Supported by the HSE, Clubhouse is a non-medical model that follows the structure of a working day, and encourages each member to reach their full potential. Clubhouse provides an environment of support with members and staff working side by side to ensure that its work and standards are met.

Reflecting on her experience, Aideen who joined in October 2013, said, “It has recaptured the life I want to live. There are so many activities going on here you don’t have time to think about your problems.”

Schools speak out

In the next segment, the audience enjoyed a short drama from the Donahies Community School’s Young Social Innovators. The sketch illustrated how an abusive relationship can be physical or verbal, without bias towards sexual orientation.  Following applause, there was a tea break where attendees engaged in networking.

There followed a panel discussion on the benefits of volunteering, led by Anna Gunning, acting CEO of Volunteer Ireland. Panellists included Rachel Barry from Sybil Hill Nursing Home, George Finglas from Priorswood and District Men’s Shed, Jamie Johnson from Sphere 17 youth service and Allie Sheehan from Young Community Leaders. The panel members cited personal accomplishment, growth of self-esteem and development of skills as key benefits. The premise was that volunteering can enrich your life, regardless of age or circumstance.

After the first half the audience enjoyed some fantastic entertainment by dance troupe, Sphere 17. The Funky Chickens – a group of 12 year old talented children – performed to rapturous applause. 

In the second half, NearFM’s Dorothee Meyer-Holtkamp spoke about the significant role of community radio in promoting positive mental health. The radio station is located in the Civic Centre next door to Northside Partnership and dedicated to providing news in the northeast catchment. Dorothee outlined some of NearFM’s key programmes, such as its Lifeline series, which is dedicated to promoting mental and physical wellbeing. Forthcoming projects include Respect Words, dedicated to combat racism in media, and a local television documentary called The Health Effect, reflecting health in the northeast catchment. 
 

Removing the stigma

Following this was Peter Keohane, principal of Donahies Community School in Donaghmede. In a poignant address, he emphasised the importance of addressing mental health issues within the education system. He discussed the stresses commonly experienced by schoolchildren, including exams, family difficulties and the affects of social media. Peter also welcomed the introduction of a new subject called Wellbeing from September 2017 for the Junior cycle. This subject will incorporate physical education, relationships, anti-bullying programmes, and civic and political education.

“The new subject is about being mentally happy but also having the strength and skillset to overcome the challenges and difficulties that we all face from time to time,” he said.  “Every one of us faces these challenges and some of us have the skillset, others don't. How we feel about ourselves, how we make friends, how we develop our psychological and emotional wellbeing - it is about time everyone was taught this skillset.”

The next segment included two accounts from courageous speakers sharing their personal experiences. The first was Owen Murray, a young man from Darndale, who talked about living with bipolar disorder. He spoke frankly about his life experiences and recovery and made a lasting impression on the audience.

The next speaker was Shannon Whelan, from Donaghmede, studying performing arts at Coláiste Dhúlaigh. She gave a heartfelt account of her experience with depression with candour and wry humour. Shannon encouraged more openness about mental health to encourage better awareness in our community. “I've recently started to believe that the more people who share their own story, the less stigma there will be around the subject," she said "It's something every single person on this planet will experience whether it's themselves, a close friend or family member, and we will find help for all of us.”

Shannon’s powerful message was complimented by the final speaker, Sorcha O’Neill, from See Change, Ireland’s national mental health reduction programme. “Stigma is what stops us speaking out about mental health difficulties, when all of us are affected by it at one stage or another,” Sorcha said. “See Change is all about breaking down those barriers.” Initiatives for 2017 include workplace training to remove discrimination, and the Green Ribbon campaign, where 500,000 green ribbons are distributed around the country in May to get more conversations going about mental health.

Closing the event, Northside Partnership CEO Paul Rogers thanked all the Northside Minds speakers for their participation. He also thanked Young Community Leaders’s LÁMH committee for their tireless efforts in the creation of the event.

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