Walk In My Shoes http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie Take a small step and make a huge difference. Fri, 23 Feb 2018 13:32:50 +0000 en-GB hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.4 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-Walk-in-my-shoes-St-patricks-mhs-icon-32x32.png Walk In My Shoes http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie 32 32 The Importance of Falling In Love With Yourself on Valentine’s Day http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/importance-falling-love-valentines-day/ Wed, 14 Feb 2018 11:25:55 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8659 Roses, chocolates and red hearts are winking at us from every shop window, champagne corks pop into every ad break and romcoms flutter onto every channel – irrespective of our relationship status, none of us can escape the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day. Whether you view the day as a money-making racket pedalled by the […]

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Roses, chocolates and red hearts are winking at us from every shop window, champagne corks pop into every ad break and romcoms flutter onto every channel – irrespective of our relationship status, none of us can escape the fact that it’s Valentine’s Day.

Whether you view the day as a money-making racket pedalled by the advertising industry, or you look forward to it as a warm respite from winter winds, one thing is certain, Valentine’s Day can be a challenging time for many.

Be your own Valentine

By focusing almost exclusively on a fairytale style of romantic love, we can feel somehow ‘less than’ if that doesn’t match with our reality. We may be single, in an unhappy relationship or in a contented one where big gestures and candlelit dinners just don’t suit.

Whatever your individual circumstances, Valentine’s Day presents an opportunity to reframe the narrative and use it as a chance to rekindle your love for yourself.

Why is self-love important?

We’ve all heard – or maybe even said – “yer man/one loves him/herself”, a sentiment that makes us think of loving ourselves as something narcissistic or self-obsessed. It is neither of these things. If we can’t learn to love and accept ourselves, it makes it very difficult to accept the love of others. If we neglect to love ourselves it can, over time, create in us a sense that we are unlovable or even worse, unworthy of love. Recognising and acknowledging our own, individual worth is key to human happiness.

Each of us is enough. Just as we are. Cultivating this belief and feeding it with love, can help to foster confidence and resilience when faced with tough times.

How do I re-connect with self-love?

It wouldn’t be Valentine’s Day without someone popping the question. Pop the following three questions to yourself and the answers should help you on your way.

1. What do I love about myself?

If you’re not used to looking at yourself from a place of love, start by recognising something simple that you like about yourself, then build on it gradually, e.g. I make a great cup of tea. I love that I share my passion for baking with others by making them things. I love that I try to be a compassionate person. I love how committed I am to my family etc. Whatever it is, take the time this Valentine’s Day to acknowledge and be grateful for the things you love about yourself. If you can, try to do this regularly and you’ll be head over heels about yourself in no time.

2. How can I show myself love?

The good news is that there are many, many ways, to show yourself some love. If you’re out of practice, a simple trick is to be your own best friend. If you’re feeling down, stressed or overwhelmed, think of how you might respond if you were being a best friend. Tune in to what you need and try to meet that need if you can. Perhaps you need a walk in the countryside, some time with a book, a catch-up phone call with a friend or a warm, comforting meal. These are all positive things you can do for you.

While caring for yourself is an important way to show love, so is being compassionate when it comes to the things you struggle to accept about yourself. Everyone can be self-critical from time to time. Be mindful of doing this and, where possible, change your tone to something kinder and more compassionate. If you’ve gotten into the habit of being your own worse critic, this can be tough at first. A good way to start is to imagine how you might talk to your friend if they did something you’re being critical with yourself about, e.g. “my presentation was awful, I’m so stupid” might become “I find presentations really difficult, I’m proud of myself for stepping up to do it and getting through despite my nerves”.

It’s not always easy to change the record, but turning the volume down on your inner critic lets you hum along to a more compassionate tune.

3. How can I show love and compassion to others?

It may seem counter-intuitive that in order to love yourself more, you should extend love to others, but studies show that practicing love and compassion for others, boosts our capacity to show ourselves that same kindness.

These don’t need to be huge declarations of love, simply take the time and space to connect with a loved one, a work colleague or even a stranger. If a loved one gives amazing hugs when they greet you, share with them how much those hugs mean to you and how great they make you feel. If a colleague at work is upset about something, offer to sit down with them and listen to their concerns. If you’re in line to use the ticket machine at a LUAS stop and see someone struggling to make sense of it, offer to help them. If your barista makes your coffee just right, thank them for always getting your day off to a great start.

These are all small things, but in being mindful of showing love and kindness to others in a range of circumstances, you will be more sensitive to how you treat yourself.

Three little words

While many live in hope or expectation of hearing three little words on Valentine’s Day, you can hear words of love and acceptance every day … I am enough. I love me. Warts and all. Be inspired by all the love that’s in the air on Valentine’s Day and rekindle some for yourself.

Mental Health Support & Information Service

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services’ Support & Information Service is a confidential telephone and email service staffed by experienced mental health nurses 9am-5pm Monday to Friday with an answering and call-back facility outside hours. You can contact the Support & Information Service by calling 01 249 3333, or email info@stpatsmail.com

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Your school’s mission starts here! http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/your-schools-mission-starts-here/ Fri, 12 Jan 2018 13:35:04 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8585 We are delighted to announce the return of the Mission Possible: School Achievement Awards; an initiative dedicated to celebrating and acknowledging the work being carried out by schools to promote positive mental health. The awards recognise schools from all over the country for their efforts in tackling mental health stigma, both in the classroom and […]

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We are delighted to announce the return of the Mission Possible: School Achievement Awards; an initiative dedicated to celebrating and acknowledging the work being carried out by schools to promote positive mental health.

The awards recognise schools from all over the country for their efforts in tackling mental health stigma, both in the classroom and in the wider community. Entry is open to all schools.

Last year’s award ceremony saw six primary and secondary schools from all over Ireland win fantastic prizes for their contributions in educating, empowering and promoting positive mental health to their students.

St. Patrick’s CEO, Paul Gilligan, said:

“Children spend on average six hours per day in school and so it is important that schools embrace their vital role in encouraging students to have open discussions and conversations around mental health.”

“Schools can be a great setting for building life skills and resilience. Teachers can provide a supportive environment where educating our young people on mental health is a priority.”

Tamara Nolan, Communications Manager at St Patricks, said:

“When we launched Mission Possible last year, we were encouraged by the fantastic efforts being made to raise mental health awareness in primary and secondary schools all around the country.”

“This year we have made the application process more focussed; schools are asked to submit a two page word document outlining their plans, aims, objectives and results in terms of promoting positive mental health in their school. We’re really excited to receive this year’s entries!”

The closing date for entries is 23rd March 2018.

Entry details and for further information View the gallery of entries to the 2017 Mission Possible School Achievement Awards

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My Anxiety and Me – Darragh, 37 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/my-anxiety-and-me/ Tue, 09 Jan 2018 11:15:43 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8524 My heart races, thoughts are rampant coming at me from all directions, tense shoulders, on edge, my breathe is faster, my fists tighter, looking for the exit, will I bolt now, breathe Darragh, for the love of God relax, no good, drink a pint, no eye contact, drink another pint, easing… This would be a […]

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My heart races, thoughts are rampant coming at me from all directions, tense shoulders, on edge, my breathe is faster, my fists tighter, looking for the exit, will I bolt now, breathe Darragh, for the love of God relax, no good, drink a pint, no eye contact, drink another pint, easing…

This would be a typical night out for me for the past 20 years as I have coped with the crippling effects anxiety has had on me. I am a 37 year old guy from the Wilds of Mayo, living in Dublin for around 15 years. From the outside I look confident, having a great time, great job, friends, family etc but no one can see what is going on inside.

I have lived with anxiety from when I can remember, even at a young age but not to the extent this monster grew from my teens onwards. I was a pretty shy kid, always felt different from the other lads. Wasn’t big into the GAA, got red when being at the centre of attention, had a slight speech impediment that made me stumble over my words and made me even more embarrassed.

The First Time

I remember the first time I felt this wave of anxiety come over me, I was sitting in class, top of the class and the teacher made a point that I must never play rounder’s with the girls again, that I was sissy and go play with the boys. I was around 10 and I just wanted the floor to swallow me up. All eyes were on me and they were judging me negatively, laughing at me and I never felt so alone.

Little did I know that this was just mild as to what I was going to endure in the coming years! Secondary school, I was fed to the lions. I was the oldest in my family, the shy but happy go lucky kid, bit different, full of energy, ray of light coming from somewhere was said, but different. When I started Secondary school my differences were magnified, they were highlighted, ridiculed, despised.

The Bullying

The bullying started small, copying my talking, how I didn’t like football, I was pretty awkward when puberty began so spots, very slim, tall so these were picked on also but then I started to hear the word gay, queer, puff….. I knew I was different and I knew I started to have feelings for other boys but I thought I was hiding this side of me.
I couldn’t fight back, I said nothing, how could I, they were right, I was gay, I hated football, I was spotty and awkward, I agreed with what they were saying to me so how could I fight back. I lost my voice, my strength, my courage, so I just put my head down and for years took the abuse. I wished they had just hit me as the words that were coming at me went right into my soul, my heart. Every single word stayed with me, these words were bringing me to my knees.

This is when my anxiety was getting higher, stronger and more frequent. As I look back and the work I have done on myself I can now see that my anxiety was social, other people made me anxious. After school I went to college, the bullying stopped by my peers but I kept this up instead and boy did I do an even worse job than the bully’s. I crucified myself, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, I couldn’t walk down the street without getting panic attacks, shops or supermarkets were like a war zone, I felt under attack ready to run at any given moment.
I couldn’t look at people, I wore a cap to hide my face, no one needed to look at me, I was nothing, a waste of space. Then pubs and nightclubs, my hell. I just drank and drank to numb the anxiety, I would get this small glimmer of freedom from the negativity, from the anxiety but this was all false and only lasted for moments.

My turning point

The anxiety and pain lasted for years, until one day when I was around 22 I went home to Mayo with my cap covering my face, my head down, my energy so so low. My family knew something was wrong but I just brushed it off. To this day I can still remember in the kitchen, myself and Mum. Mum sitting on stool by the table and she asked me was I OK? I think at that moment I had reached my limit, my heart and soul couldn’t take this, I had kept this inside of me for so long that I needed to let something out and I just broke down in front of her.

I wept, wept, my heart was broke and I just needed someone, anyone to hold me and help me. That day was the turning point of my life, I opened up, told mum I hated myself, hated Dublin, that I was slowly killing myself. She put her arms around me, rang a GP and brought me straight to him. I needed help as I couldn’t cope on my own anymore.

The crazy thing though is that I didn’t know I was suffering from massive anxiety, extreme low self-worth and depression but I thought it was my skin. I was told in school how ugly and spotty I was that I thought once my skin was clear all these thoughts and feelings would disappear, even to the doctor just give me tablets to clear my skin and I’ll be fine. My skin was clear, I just couldn’t cope with the self-hatred that I put all my energy and thoughts into something external, unable to cope with the internal turmoil.

As I said, this was a turning point. I got help, spoke to a therapist, CBT and he helped me retrain my mind. The cap went, my confidence grew, I came out, no one disowned me, slowly and slowly I started to heal inside and start accepting myself, flaws and all. This took years and to be honest I am still healing to this day.

Anxiety is in us all, we need it in case someone jumps up behind us and wants to harm us, but when the anxiety holds you hostage, brings you to your knees then you need a hand to get out of that hole. My anxiety is not as severe as to what it was all those years ago but he is still with me. I do get a slight panic when I go into bars, walk down streets, go on a date because for me it is the judgments I presume people are negatively making of me but now I am able to control these more. I am now able to feel the emotions that come up from these thoughts and instead of following the thought process I breathe, let the thoughts flow in and out and feel the uncomfortable feelings. Then the anxiety will lose its power and the anxiety subsides.

Meditation

This is a habit I have incorporated into my daily life. I meditate, I just started over a year ago and this has changed my life also. I was on anti-depressants for a couple of years and wanted off these, they were numbing me and I knew to fully heal I needed to feel the emotions inside. I started Japa mediation on the recommendation of a friend and I haven’t looked back. By mediating this has helped me heal the pain, helped me feel more comfortable within my own skin, to fully accept myself and love myself.

Who would have a thought a culchie from the wilds of Mayo who have his life turned around by sitting in a room of people, speaking mantras out loud and meditating, but for me this has worked.
The only advice I can give anyone who is suffering from anxiety, depression, low self-worth, suicidal thoughts is to please reach out to someone anyone and tell them how you are feeling. You are not alone, you are an exceptional human being with so many gifts and your life is so important. Ask for help, this is not a weakness but such an unbelievable act of courage to have the strength to ask for a helping hand.

You do not need to go through this alone, there is so much help out there so today please go and talk to someone even send me an email just reach out. This is the first step of letting some of the pain inside of you go and start fully healing.
You are not alone, you will overcome this and you are such a unique and phenomenal person, your life is going to be amazing.

You can follow Darragh O’Boyle on Instagram

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Shake it Off http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/shake-it-off/ Mon, 18 Dec 2017 21:16:03 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8511 Many of us who look in the mirror don’t like what looks back at us. We moan we have too many wrinkles, too many grey hairs, we are too short or too tall, the list goes on and on. We are often highly critical of ourselves both physically and mentally. Instead of being positive and […]

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Many of us who look in the mirror don’t like what looks back at us. We moan we have too many wrinkles, too many grey hairs, we are too short or too tall, the list goes on and on. We are often highly critical of ourselves both physically and mentally. Instead of being positive and self-affirming of what others see we experience a range of negative emotions when we look at ourselves. Instead of seeing all the unique qualities and abilities we have as individuals we see fault, failure and inadequacy. The big question is why? Is it conditioning? Is it culture or is it something far deeper? We do this when we are doing okay so imagine what it must be like when things are not okay and experiencing mental health difficulties.

When someone experiences mental health difficulties this self-criticism is multiplied, transformed and becomes something which others struggle to recognise. Questions and self-accusations such as Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? what did I do to deserve this? all run amok during times of distress and ill health. This type of self-blame is destructive, overwhelming and can become even more difficult than the illness itself to manage. Regardless of the starting point for someone’s mental ill health self-stigma creeps in like a black cloud and without warning consumes and takes over one’s self esteem. Recovering from the loss of self-esteem, of self-worth, of believing that you are loved and have a place in the world can be a long and difficult journey. With the right care and treatment people can and do recover from their mental health difficulties but the lasting scars of self-stigma are often far more difficult to heal.

And then we move on to societal stigma around mental illness and how it can impact one’s recovery. This type of stigma presents its own difficulties. The realm of societal stigma is changing as more and more people are coming forward and speak openly and honestly about their mental health difficulties. However, mental illness is still a taboo subject for many. Stigma has its roots in fear and misunderstanding, a fear that has been driven in part by history. For many, psychiatric services were, and still are places to be feared, despite the old name of asylum which means a place of refuge and safety. This fear often translated into the local psychiatric service being used as a threat and whether or not we agree those fears don’t leave us. In times of ill-health those negative connotations of psychiatric services are at the forefront of people’s minds. There is still a plethora of half-truths and wrong information about mental ill health, myths from darker days and these fears and mis-information stop people coming forward and seeking appropriate help at an early stage in their illness.

Self-doubt about how we will be perceived, will people still like us, will they avoid us, what should we stay all run through our minds when considering disclosure. We now live in an ever-changing instantaneous society where everything is available at the flick of a switch, a swipe of the smartphone or a quick search of google. We are instagrammed, snap-chatted, what’s app’d, and facetimed. We know an awful lot about each other through the medium of social media but we often don’t have a clue about what is really going on. We post, share, retweet lots of information, our likes, dislikes, pictures of good times and events but, how often do we have an honest and open conversation about mental and emotional health? We have the technology and the mechanisms to communicate instantaneously yet a significant number would not disclose a mental health difficulty to others. For some, they value their privacy and just don’t talk but for others they often feel too ashamed, too worried and too frightened to admit that everything is not okay and the smiling picture online is not a representation of where things are really at. All these doubts and fears hold on tight and are difficult to shake.

As someone who engages with, and meets service users every day I see brave and courageous individuals who have come forward to seek help with their mental health difficulties. They have placed their trust in our service to help them on their journey to recovery. I see people, not diagnoses. Yes, I see suffering and struggles but I also see individuals who are doing their best to get well. I see the impact of stigma, particularly self-stigma far too often. So, I encourage anyone who is experiencing difficulties, and, everyone else to look in the mirror, to look beyond the physical façade and remind themselves how strong, brave and courageous they are! It is not easy, I know from personal experience because I look at my own grey hair, crows feet and tired eyes far too often! We all need to remind ourselves we are unique talented individuals with lots of abilities, skills and talents. Ask the mirror, who is the fairest of them all and tell it that it is you! Remind yourself recovery is possible, even if right in that moment you are struggling to believe it! Try not to stigmatise yourself, your journey may well be difficult but the added burden of self-stigma can often slow down recovery.

As Taylor Swift so aptly puts it: “Shake it off”. Easier said than done of course but when that burden of self-stigma has been lifted it can have a very positive impact on recovery. Self- stigma is stubborn so it may take a lot of shaking! Shake off self-stigma and give yourself the best chance of recovery possible.

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Still Just Me – Mental Health Stigma http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/still-just-mental-health-stigma/ Mon, 18 Dec 2017 11:09:51 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8495 Stigma is a double-headed beast, existing in two forms as public and self-stigma. Engagement with negative attitudes (prejudice) and/or adverse behaviour (discrimination) is known as public stigma. Self-stigma is how the individual sees their own mental health from a warped perspective. It was self-stigma that affected me most. Self-stigma is a gaseous thing – it’s […]

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Stigma is a double-headed beast, existing in two forms as public and self-stigma. Engagement with negative attitudes (prejudice) and/or adverse behaviour (discrimination) is known as public stigma. Self-stigma is how the individual sees their own mental health from a warped perspective. It was self-stigma that affected me most.

Self-stigma is a gaseous thing – it’s odourless and colourless with the canny ability to seep into our souls through our pores, unseen. It crept up on me so silently that for a long time I didn’t even realise it was happening. In fact, I was the last one to acknowledge it.

As an IT Project Manager, I worked in a sector where pressure and deadlines were the norm and stress was a constant companion. I ran projects with teams of up to 200 million-dollar budgets and over-expectant customers. As a sensitive extrovert, I took on the angst of both the teams and customers without any way of releasing pent-up emotions or being able to recharge. Regular sleep, exercise and healthy eating were not conducive to international assignments, living out of a suitcase; a perfect storm was being created.

Before long, I was self-medicating with alcohol, becoming a ‘functional drinker’. As the single point of contact for both customers and management, I was truly visible. Any requests for a lighter workload or additional support were just not an option, professionally or personally. Professionally, other project managers who had returned after burn-out were seen as lesser shades of themselves. Personally, my ingrained work ethic just told me to work harder and harder and harder – despite my growing mountain of self-doubt and anxiety, I just had to be invincible.

Soon after, my first depressive episode occurred and I was signed-off sick. What I understood about mental illness was limited and I rejected being prescribed anti-depressants as well as desperately begging my doctor not to put down ‘depression’ on the forms. There could be no outward evidence of my situation whatsoever. This was a classic case of self-stigma, I had judged myself and found myself to be lacking against what I thought society expected. Pills were for others not me. I would not be trusted with any responsibility at work if I required pills to keep going. I had seen others returning after similar situations who weren’t handled compassionately, assigned routine work with nothing else but retirement or resignation to look forward to. Unconsciously, I had entered a self-destructive cycle of hiding the truth.

So, when I returned to work, I lied. I said I was better and took on even more difficult projects to prove to them and myself that this was the case. I didn’t use the Employee Assistance Programme or the Occupational Nurse who may well have provided some coping skills, I just pressed on. However, it soon became evident to me that something had shifted, changed. My potential and passion were gone and the assignments seemed more arduous than ever. With hindsight this was because I had not recharged and just continued ‘running on empty’.

A few years later and I had got myself sober, recognising that I was either drinking because I was depressed or depressed because I was drinking and that action needed to be taken. Although this gave me some respite, it unfortunately masked the true underlying condition. Once again I took validation in the fact that I had “fixed myself”, which surely really sick people couldn’t do. I was in complete denial.

Inevitably, my bouts of depression and my inability to recharge finally overwhelmed me and I had a nervous breakdown requiring medication and hospitalisation. Now the cat was out of the bag! But my self-stigma tenaciously clung on, I saw and set myself apart from many of the others on the ward. I participated to the full, even when I just wanted to stay under the covers and fade away. As with everything else in my people-pleasing driven life, I was going to be the best whatever anyone had ever seen. I was discharged from hospital full of theory and exercises but not committed, I still felt shame and guilt at admitting to not being well.

Things continued as before, and guess what? Fast forward several years and being in an abusive environment caused another, more debilitating breakdown. This time it was different, I couldn’t put my previous episodes down to life distress or a one-off never to be repeated circumstance. I was ill.

For the first time ever, I availed of one-to-one counselling. Previously my job had made it impractical and as I didn’t believe I needed it, I never fought to find an alternative solution. I was finally able to understand that my drive to succeed was no longer helping me and began to seek alternative perspectives. Most significantly, I began to talk to others around me about what was and had happened. This is still part of my recovery today, in fact, I now need to watch that I don’t over share and listen more than I talk!

I had put myself on a bumpy road while all along there was an easier way, but I wasn’t ready. I’m just grateful I got there in the end.

Nicola Hampson, Mental Health Advocate

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The journey of transformation to a recovery, human rights-based, international leader in mental health care delivery http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/st-patricks-mental-health-services-2/ Mon, 18 Dec 2017 10:23:10 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8483 Ill mental health is the greatest health challenge the world faces. At any given time, 10% of the adult population across the world experience a mental or behavioural problem. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression – the leading cause of disability – with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of […]

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Ill mental health is the greatest health challenge the world faces. At any given time, 10% of the adult population across the world experience a mental or behavioural problem. Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression – the leading cause of disability – with many of these people also suffering from symptoms of anxiety. Some 264 million people are living with an anxiety disorder. Schizophrenia affects about 21 million people and bipolar disorder affects about 60 million people worldwide. Approximately 47.5 million people have dementia worldwide.

10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders. Neuropsychiatric conditions are the leading cause of disability in young people in all regions. Worldwide about 10% of pregnant women and 13% of women who have just given birth experience a mental disorder; primarily depression. In developing countries this percentage is even higher.

In Ireland, it is estimated that one in two experience a mental health difficulty. A recent WHO-led study estimates that depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity. In Ireland the loss to GDP is estimated to be €3 billion. Health systems across the world are not adequately responding to the burden of mental health difficulties. As a consequence, the gap between the need for treatment and its provision is wide. In low and middle income countries, between 76% and 85% of people with mental health difficulties receive no treatment. In high-income countries, between 35% and 50% of people with mental health difficulties are in the same situation.

There are three main obstacles to tackling the problem; deep stigma engrained in every society regarding mental health difficulties, a lack of understanding of what treatments actually work and a lack of investment.

Mental health awareness

Over the last number of years, awareness regarding mental health and mental health difficulties has grown substantially in most societies. This has been driven by education, a growth in personal awareness and declarations by high profile individuals. In Ireland, there is now a component of the school curriculum dedicated to building awareness of mental health. Information regarding mental wellbeing is easily available to everyone on the Internet and high profile people such as rock stars and sports personalities have publicly declared their personal stories regarding mental health difficulties.

Yet negative and inaccurate attitudes to mental health difficulties and those who experience them remain deeply engrained within Irish culture. Recent research carried out by St Patrick’s Mental Health Services indicates that despite the fact that 28% of respondents had previously been treated for a mental health difficulty themselves and 44% reported having a family member who had been previously treated, 25%, would tell no one if they were experiencing suicidal thoughts, 38% would not tell their partner if they were taking anti-depressants and 36% would not tell their partner if their child was being treated for depression.

There is still an inaccurate belief that those with mental health difficulties are likely to be more untrustworthy or more likely to commit violent acts. In Ireland, 44% of people would not trust someone who experienced postnatal depression to babysit, 23% would not willingly marry someone previously hospitalised with depression, 19% said they would not be

entirely comfortable living next door to someone who is bipolar and 29% do not think someone who experiences panic attacks could be head of a company. Across the world when people engage in horrific unexplainable acts, like murder of their own children or deliberately crashing a plane, we attribute their behaviour to mental health difficulties, yet people with mental health difficulties are no more likely to be violent than others and indeed are more likely to hurt themselves than to hurt others.

Stigma

Stigma is best understood through the following model:

Gilligan Stigma Model

Gilligan Stigma Model

The greatest impact of stigma is that it prevents people from seeking help. The research indicates that the majority of people who experience mental health difficulties still do not seek help. In Ireland the research indicates that 64% of people believe that being treated for a mental health difficulty is seen as a sign of personal failure while 25% of people would tell no one if they had previously been an inpatient for a mental health difficulty. Only just over half (55%) would tell a partner. In most countries historically, we have dealt with people experiencing mental health difficulties by locking them in asylums or in prisons causing most families to hide away their loved ones who needed help, or to feel shame and guilt.

There is still significant disagreement and uncertainty regarding our understanding of mental health difficulties and how best to treat them. The debate between the biological and social causes – the medical versus the talk therapy treatment approach – rages on, leaving in its wake the people experiencing difficulties. Yet the evidence indicates that mental health difficulties are most often caused by a combination of biological, social and personal factors and that treatment at all of these levels is the most effective. This view has now been encapsulated into the ‘recovery model’ which seeks to address difficulties in a holistic manner through empowering the person experiencing the difficulties.

Central to this approach is ensuring that treatments and services are grounded in a human rights approach, giving the person control and choice over their own life and treatment decisions.

Stigma and uncertainty lead to a lack of investment and funding of the services. Who will fund prevention and treatment approaches if they are not convinced they will be effective, or if they have deeply held beliefs that nothing can be done to help those experiencing mental health difficulties and that they are in some way different from the rest of society? Across the world, there is a concern that we are spending too much money on healthcare and that there is substantial waste in the system. Mental healthcare has been the largest victim of this belief. Most countries spend less than is required on mental healthcare and prevention.
Ireland spends between 6-7% of the National Mental Health Budget. The estimated necessary spend is 12%. Of course we need to spend wisely, applying the value principle outlined by the Michael Porter, ensuring we measure outcomes per euro spent.

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services’ role in treating mental health difficulties

St Patrick’s Mental Health Services is the largest and oldest independent provider of mental healthcare in Ireland. Since its founding through the legacy of Jonathan Swift over 250 years ago, the Organisation has sought to protect and care for those who experience mental health difficulties. In the last 10 years this journey has brought the Organisation to the realisation that it must strive to create a Society in which all citizens are given the opportunity to live mentally healthy lives. We aspire to provide the highest quality mental healthcare, to promote awareness and understanding about mental health and to advocate for the rights of those experiencing mental health difficulties.

Our journey and challenges in the last 10 years are not unlike those faced by many other organisations in many other countries who are leaving behind their histories of placing those who experience mental health difficulties in institutions and asylums towards a more community-based model of care. Many countries now have mental health strategies underpinned by legislation. Obtaining good committed staff is problematic across the world as working in mental health is not seen as attractive. Trust in health services is at an all-time low. Improving standards alongside controlling costs is a challenge. Reaching out to those needing help and helping them to overcome the prejudice and stigma is a core component of this journey.

In the last 10 years St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, has been grounded in the human rights values of believing in and promoting people’s rights to be treated with dignity and respect, believing in and promoting people’s rights to be protected against discrimination, seeking to provide the least restrictive, least intrusive treatment, seeking to promote independence and personal autonomy, giving people the opportunity to make decisions about their own care, seeking to empower recovery by fostering positive coping and management skills, providing individual care plans grounded in evidence-based best practice and believing in and promoting the full inclusion and equal opportunities for those experiencing mental health difficulties has focused on four key essential and complimentary areas of activity; service delivery, advocacy and awareness raising, service user engagement and research and training. We believe that a modern, progressive mental health service must entail each of these activities.

Advocacy

For 10 years we have sought to establish and provide the highest quality mental health care through in-patient, day care and community-based clinics, providing a complete care pathway. The interventions we provide are multidisciplinary, recovery and evidence-based and we produce outcome measures on a programmatic and organisational and financial basis.

We have transformed an asylum/institution into a therapeutic campus of excellence, supported by a day service providing the most contemporary and modern group interventions and enhanced by a network of community clinics. We employ a full range of nurses, doctors and allied health professionals, ensuring we can provide
individual care plans with the most suitable treatment packages. Our services are consistently assessed by the Mental Health Commission as being of the highest standard. Public perceptions of our work are positive as are referrers.

We have introduced major advocacy and awareness raising campaigns. During 2017, our #StillJustMe campaign, through a series of short films and blog articles written by mental health experts and those with lived experience, has aimed to shine a spotlight on some of the most poorly understood and stigmatised mental health problems in Ireland today.

We focus on lobbying for peoples’ rights to receive high-quality mental health-care and for services to be compliant with the Mental Health Commission’s (MHC) standards and regulations, making submissions on Capacity Legislation and reform of the Mental Health Act, seeking full ratification and compliance with the UNCRPD and European Social Charter and running public and school-based mental health awareness raising campaigns. Our flagship preventive, awareness raising and anti-stigma campaign, Walk In My Shoes, has had tremendous success and is recognised by the majority of the Irish population.

We have been at the forefront of developing service user participation initiatives. We have a service user advisory council, a service user representative on our Board of Governors and service users participate in all interviews for staff and all project teams. Reports and policy documents produced by our Service User and Supporters Council are acted upon as a priority. We have also established the first advocacy service for adolescents in the care of approved centres in Ireland.

Underpinning all of this is a continued commitment to research and training. We are a University Hospital affiliated to one of the oldest and best universities in the country, Trinity College Dublin. We are one of the largest trainers of mental healthcare professionals in Ireland, providing professional training for doctors, nurses, and all allied health professionals.

Children’s mental health is one of the greatest challenges facing Irish society in the last number of years. Research indicates that Irish children experience higher rates of mental health difficulties than their European counterparts. St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services recognises that alongside providing a full range of adolescent mental healthcare services, including in-patient, day service and community-based care, the Organisation must work to prevent mental health difficulties arising for children and to support them to seek support earlier.

The Organisation has focused its efforts in this regard on building young people’s awareness and working with schools and parents. One of our most successful campaigns has been the #MindYourSelfie Campaign which utilises the internet and mobile phones to promote mental health awareness. Working to prevent and treat child and adolescent mental health difficulties is recognised as a key part of our work. We appreciate that tackling childhood mental health difficulties will reduce the likelihood of adult difficulties and will help change societies’ attitudes towards mental health. More importantly, it will ensure children challenged by mental health difficulties will have a happy fulfilling childhood.

Paul Gilligan, Clinical Psychologist and Chief Executive of St Patrick’s Mental Health Services

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The Runway of Life – Tips for well-being http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/runway-life-tips-well/ Fri, 10 Nov 2017 16:03:31 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8332 It may sound like an exaggeration, but from my own experience I can say that most ex-service users can have a very good quality of life. I have learnt from my many stays in St. Patrick’s, that there is life after hospitalisation, and that hope abounds for virtually every service user with a few genuine […]

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It may sound like an exaggeration, but from my own experience I can say that most ex-service users can have a very good quality of life. I have learnt from my many stays in St. Patrick’s, that there is life after hospitalisation, and that hope abounds for virtually every service user with a few genuine ‘tips’ on how to taxi down the runway of life and keep smiling. I have been a patient in St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services for protracted periods myself. The good news is that I have been out of hospital for 13 years, and have found happiness in the community, where I have a high standard of living.
I wanted to share with you some of the things I use to keep myself well and hope that they may be of some use or benefit if you are struggling with your mental health.

Self-affirmation.

Self-affirmation is key to sustained progress. At the end of each day, mentally look back over your day, and congratulate yourself. Every little/big thing you have achieved you tell yourself ‘well done!’ Very soon, your self-esteem will improve. So keep endorsing yourself in this way, and feel your confidence soar!

Apologise.

Most of us have hurt family or friends when we have been unwell. This damages relationships. It makes sense to mend broken relationships by admitting we were wrong. Start again with family and friends.

Build a social network.

This is absolutely essential. Being part of a social group encourages ex-patients (that is, service users) to abide by the social norms that society places on all adults. It teaches us important lessons about our role in the community: from paying our own way, to being on time, to keeping to your word. It also gives us vital opportunities to LISTEN to other people’s views, and, to some degree, their ‘problems’. Service users have learnt a lot and can help others immeasurably. This in turn further improves your self-esteem.

Find a Cultural Activity.

Google or enquire about FREE activities in your area. If you are fortunate enough to live in or close to Dublin, the possibilities are endless. Most people can find an educational or cultural activity to suit their pocket and time. The big ‘plus’ is that lots of other people are like you, and want to get involved with a group, to also meet other people and enjoy their free time.

Most of our art galleries, exhibitions, libraries, parks and sports are free to use, and offer a world of fascinating and relaxing events all year round. Apart from learning a great deal about our history and culture, they are very interesting and provide a connection between people who want to make friends. I have seen this happen again and again. One thing leads to another, and a walking group, for example, can end up becoming a ‘tourist’ group on a separate day during the week. If you are NOT working, it’s possible to have a very good social life, on very little money. A visit to the National Art Gallery, or the Hugh Lane Gallery, (both are free in), can be followed by a cup of coffee with the group. So these types of excursions give you ‘a lot of bang for your buck’. The friendships made along the way, make the initial effort worthwhile.

It’s worth a trip into the tourist office, or to the www.OPW.ie site, to avail of the wonderful attractions in our cities and towns. We went to free concerts, talks, city tours, poetry readings, lectures, historical buildings, castles and heritage centres. We loved it! We still have lots of other places to visit, and lots of conversations to have! – If you feel it is too much of an effort and that you don’t know anyone to socialise with, just go to one place, and start there. Ask existing friends to go to an event with you. Lots of other people are in the same position as yourself, so generally people at cultural events also hope to meet other friendly people. Another benefit from these activities is that you have definite places to go every week, and another reason, therefore, to get up reasonably early, as you have a commitment on time. Afterwards, you’ll be delighted that you made the effort, and will look forward to the next ‘cultural’ or ‘social’ event on your calendar. And of course, you can affirm yourself, at the end of the day: ‘Well done!’

And that’s the most important aspect of your life at present: ‘Well done!’, if you are out of hospital, for that is a very significant step in your life, and believe it, you CAN have a quality of life, no matter what age you are.

DO THE THINGS THAT HELP YOU STAY WELL!

And – yes – socialising is one of them! In your activities, you will meet some very interesting people, who are happy to meet you. Take the first step, for it gets easier after that.

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Talking to Children about Suicide http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/talking-children-suicide/ Wed, 01 Nov 2017 10:50:46 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8313 The post Talking to Children about Suicide appeared first on Walk In My Shoes.

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How To Talk To Children About Suicide

by Prof. Jim Lucey | Today with Sean O'Rourke - Wednesday 1st November

Why “silence and secrecy” only increase the pain of bereavement by suicide.

Childhood is meant to be a happy time, a protected time, but for some children (especially those prematurely exposed to death as a result of a suicide in their family or community) childhood can become a particularly challenging time.

When there is a death by suicide we need to be able to talk to each other and to our children. Sometimes when adults are in pain and cannot find the right language we communicate with our presence, by our gestures and by our willingness to listen and to reassure to each other. Yet how should we speak to our children at these times?

There are no easy answers to the questions posed by our children at a time of death. Death by suicide occurs twice per day in Ireland with each day adding new dimensions to this essential painful conversation with our children.

Thankfully there is helpful guidance available and it comes from a variety of responsible sources. It is based upon a combination of experience, science and common sense and so this too needs to be shared. While no one should be considered ‘the expert’ in this field, professional help is available and seeking that help is worthwhile and for some essential.

That is why, in this piece, I will try to summarise some key points. I will finish with a list of useful resources. All these references are available through www.stpatricks.ie The intention is to be helpful and to be kind, by enabling each other to communicate at a time of extreme tragedy. Just as there is no right way to grieve, there is no right way to communicate that grief to each other or to our children. We can only do our best in these extremely difficult times. One thing is both certain and reassuring: talking about a death by suicide does not cause a death by suicide. In fact, such a conversation may prevent it.

So how should we have this conversation with our children?

There are some first principles. Firstly, children have a right to know about death. They have a right to ask questions and they have a right to a hearing. Secondly we adults have a duty to be as honest as possible and always to be appropriate whenever we talk to our children about suicide.

Remember that children at differing stages of development have different levels of comprehension depending upon their maturity. For example, pre-teens and teenagers are likely to have very different abilities to express or comprehend their loss. We need to take this individual variation into account when preparing what we are going to say. It is always better to prepare. After every death a conversation such as this may happen at any time. It is best to give this particular conversation some thought and some preparation. There is no harm in rehearsing what you are going to say whenever you have to talk about a suicide with your child.

So what are the first steps?

The first thing is to look after yourself and your own feelings. The shock and suddenness of loss through suicide is stunning. It’s best to remember that the causes of suicide are never straightforward. No one has all the answers. In your grief and confusion try to avoid gossip or speculation from others about the death. There is great value in a period of deep quiet before this conversation begins. Take your time. Give yourself space to cope emotionally. Whether the deceased is an adult or a child the mix of emotions is powerful. Give yourself latitude to cope with your own mixed feelings before you approach your child.

Next step is to care for your child-but how?

Remember your adult grief does not exist in a vacuum. Your concern for yourself will likely be quickly followed by intense concerns for your child. Your awareness of his or her grief is a good thing. As your child’s welfare becomes a priority be prepared for their different ways of handling their grief. Their sadness may be expressed in intense short bursts. Between these times nothing may be said by them. Be prepared to catch the moments when a conversation is possible and respond at that time.

Do your best to speak in a simple way. Avoid euphemisms. Use language that is easy to understand. Be as honest as you can be. This includes sharing your shock and bewilderment, your anger and your sadness.

Try also to acknowledge the validity of your child’s feelings. Be ready to hear about their sadness, confusion, anger and lack of understanding. Listen to them. Sometimes a child will simply say ‘I don’t know what to think or say’. Acknowledge that too. Sometimes it’s hard for any of us to know what we feel or what we should feel. Remember it is OK to be distressed. Do not reproach yourself or your child for the way that you feel.

Next, it is best to acknowledge that rumours and questions abound about the suicide. Try to put these into context. Be particularly careful with social media in this regard. Inevitably the full facts will come out and in time the manner of death by suicide, its precipitants and its specific circumstances will be made clear. Soon these ‘facts’ will diminish in importance and be replaced with a deeper truth: the realisation of the finality of the loss. There will be need for much more communication along the way.

It is best to recognise the dangerous and often unintended consequences of self-harm behaviours. It’s important to remain non-judgemental, never to preach or lecture, but it is equally important to emphasise the dangerousness of risk-taking, especially around drugs or alcohol or firearms.

Suicidal behaviour is a learned behaviour. Obviously, it is not a model to be followed. Worryingly, at times, some children feel inclined to copy the behaviour of the deceased. This risk has been seen throughout history amongst siblings or cousins or school friends, leading rarely to groups of deaths known as ‘cluster suicides’. It is important for adults to avoid alarm about ‘clustering’ while remaining vigilant at the same time. Once again better communication is our best safe guard.

Children (like adults) will struggle to understand the reasons for suicide. Sadly, in the absence of any other explanations young people are more likely to blame themselves for the catastrophe. Some children even feel that a parent who died by suicide must not have loved them enough. In both situations it’s important to hear this distress and then to try to reassure the child. As far as possible nothing about the manner of a death should take away from the good of a life lived or diminish the love that was in that life for those who shared it.

Sometimes after a suicide the deceased can become ‘unspoken’ persons. As a result of this silence, those left behind, particularly the children, find themselves simultaneously bereaved of their loved one and prevented from grieving for them, without permission to give voice to their cherished memory. In time, talking with each other may make it possible to offer an alternative explanation, at first tentatively, ‘that the deceased must have felt so confused or so terrible that they came to a dreadful conclusion- that no other solution existed except their own death’. An opportunity to talk with a trusted adult on these lines can make all the difference.

Actually this ‘analysis’ is likely to be true. Suicide is most commonly associated with poor mental health through depression and substance misuse. It is not necessarily a mental health issue but in the vast number of instances mental health difficulty is the basis for suicide. It’s important for adults to affirm that nothing in life should ever be so terrible or so devastating that suicide becomes the best option. With the appropriate help a better option can become reality.

Ultimately we want to ensure that all our children have the confidence and freedom to reach out when they are hopeless, so that they seek more help when they feel depressed or despairing or in a crisis. Earlier intervention and more effective mental healthcare will only be accessed if we hear each other’s needs and respond with effective support.

For further information or support you can call The Information and Support Line at (01) 2493333 or on line at www.stpatricks.ie or check the references below.

Useful References:

Parenting Positively: Helping teenagers to cope with death. Barnardos and The Family Support Agency (2009)

The Irish Childhood Bereavement Network. The Care Pyramid: a guide to support for bereaved children and young people (2014). http://www.childhoodbereavement.ie/

When a child’s friend dies by suicide. Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide http://www.sptsusa.org/

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Moving On Up http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/moving-on-up-2/ Thu, 26 Oct 2017 16:02:19 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=8307 The post Moving On Up appeared first on Walk In My Shoes.

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I may have been born in November but it seems October has quickly become one of my favourite months of the year as the annual pop-up radio station Walk in My Shoes Radio returned for its fifth time.

Walk in My Shoes Radio broadcasted live from St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services on James Street in Dublin during Mental Health Awareness Week, the 9th-13th October 2017. WIMS FM is Ireland’s first all-digital pop-up radio station dedicated solely to the promotion of positive mental health

This year saw me in a different role than what I am used to as I tried my hand at being an assistant producer. I worked on the 5-7pm and 7-9pm time slots. The 5-7pm slots I worked on were presented by Stephen Byrne from Weekenders on 2FM, Blathnaid Treacy from Two Tube, Jenny Greene from 2FM and her partner Kelly Keogh. The 7-9pm slots were presented by Pat O’Mahony of ‘Head 2 Toe’ fame and Pamela Flood from ‘Off the Rails”. Two hours is not enough for me when working with all these lovely people!

I had the privilege of being an assistant producer to two ladies who are also RTÉ Continuity Announcers by the names Gemma Craddock and Jan Ní Fhlanagáin. Their roles are really intense as they have to be on high alert all the time with the timing of interviews, presenter talking pieces and songs. They have to let the presenter know how long they have before the next break and song. There is a lot of concentration involved. My role this year was pretty quiet in comparison which gives me a bit of an urge to try out theirs next year. I will stick with it for a while though to see what else I can add to it next time.

One of the biggest highlights of my volunteering this year was having my own song played on the station. Pat O’Mahony interviewed me about my own background in media and music, what my song “Branches” is about, what inspired me to write it and what the inspiration for the music video was. This was a great opportunity to promote a song I am very proud of writing. Especially on a radio station which is aimed at promoting positive mental health.

As with every year I tend to bump into some of the great faces and voices of Irish media and music. This year’s list included Celia Murphy who plays Niamh on Fair City, Aoibheann McCaul who plays Caoimhe on Fair City, singer Mary Coughlan and Sinead Kane who is the first blind person to complete 7 Marathons on 7 Continents in 7 Days but as she stated more precisely, she ran it in 6 days and 9 hours.

Due to other commitments outside of WIMS FM that week, I was only in the station for three days as opposed to my usual five days. It went by way too quickly.

I am all pumped up and ready for WIMS FM 2018…. BRING IT ON!

Gina Lu

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Adolescents and the importance of friendships in the school setting http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/adolescents-importance-friendships-school-setting/ Fri, 29 Sep 2017 12:14:55 +0000 http://www.walkinmyshoes.ie/?p=7939 For most of us, we spend a large proportion of our time in the school setting, from as young as about 3 years of age to 18 years or thereabouts. Nowadays, from a very young age, many children enter into a very different environment to what they are used to in the home setting. This […]

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For most of us, we spend a large proportion of our time in the school setting, from as young as about 3 years of age to 18 years or thereabouts. Nowadays, from a very young age, many children enter into a very different environment to what they are used to in the home setting. This may be Playschool, Montessori or Primary School. When this time comes for a child, they enter into a particular group with other young children just like them and spend a large proportion of their day learning to read and write and of course, form friendships, learn to get along with others and continue to build the blocks of their social skills. These blocks are continuously being built, right through Primary School, into the adolescent years and indeed throughout adult life. You’re never too old to learn! What is being learned along the way, paves the way for the future.

I’d like to talk about friendships in the adolescent years (13 to 18) and how important this is in the school setting. Adolescence is one of the most rapid stages of brain development throughout life. This, coupled with the onset of the physical and hormonal changes of puberty is undoubtedly a lot of change for any young person to go through. Yet we all have to go through it! During this stage of development, young people can often find themselves wanting to spend more time with their peers than their parents or siblings. Therefore friendships can be a very influential part of any young person’s life. For adolescents, more time is spent in the school setting compared with childhood. Transition from Primary School to Secondary School can also be challenging for some young people. Some may enter larger classes, some may know none or only a few people from their Primary School, who are also transitioning to Secondary School. Not to mention the increased workload.

So with all this in tow, some people may have different groups of friends including best friends, casual friends and close friends. However there are some young people for whatever reason, do not feel happy or comfortable with friendships in school or they may feel that they have few or no friends. This is an added burden to those who feel like this.

Given that the school setting is a rather intense one with regular face to face contact and interaction with others, it’s important that young people feel comfortable for the most part. Difficulties with friendships in school can have a knock – on effect on other aspects of a young person’s life. Positive experiences with interaction and friendships with others can likewise have positive effects on aspects of a young person’s life. The negative aspects young people experience around friendships are undoubtedly very difficult and these young people need to be fully supported through difficult times. Examples include difficult dynamics within groups of friends, changes to groups of friends, being bullied, excluded from things, the challenges that social media can bring. Does the perfect friendship exist? If we all had perfect friendships, I fear we would not have to face these challenges and hence not have the opportunity to become stronger and wiser as a result of coming through difficult times.

However to do this alone is extremely difficult. Therefore having people around to support young people, to listen to them, to encourage them to communicate how they feel is so very important. We are all too familiar with stories we have read or heard about young people going to such lengths as to take their own lives. Sometimes with these unfortunate stories we hear, the young person may have been bullied. Bullying shouldn’t happen in our society but it does. We should be pulling together to help who we can and teach our children to do the same thing. Teach this at school and at home, the 2 places that young people are practically guaranteed to be most of the time.

When I think of school, I think about both the academic and social aspects of school. It’s important to remember the 2 are separate but also interlinked. I still remember in particular 1 or 2 teachers I had in Secondary School, who I looked up to and who I must say probably “made a difference”. A good teacher can somehow be the glue that can hold a class together and bring out the positives and strengths in some or most of the young people they teach. This of course can enhance a respect for a teacher and fellow pupils. All people learn from good example and what better way to show it than a in the classroom setting led by a good teacher. A good teacher I believe teaches more than the curriculum subject.

For a young person, attending a school with a good ethos around friendship, I believe is key to that young person continuing on their journey to enhancing positive friendships. Most schools nowadays focus on friendship by having various aspects of this on the curriculum such as Friendship Week, Anti- Bullying policies, various aspects around friendship in their SPHE Programmes.
Also partaking in group activities in the school setting. However I believe one of the most important things in school is having access to good staff and teachers who are “clued in and have their ear to the ground” for a better word. I mean those who are tuned in to what is going on in the school and can identify if someone is having difficulties with a friend/ peer group. It is essential that if someone, be it a young person, peer or parent brings a difficulty to the attention of a teacher or principal, that this is explored and managed accordingly. Again, this can include incidents of bullying or other difficulties.

Adolescents and the importance of friendships in the school setting

Adolescents and the importance of friendships in the school setting

Enhancing good communication is key to young people opening up and communicating about any problems they may be encountering. This should be in every possible way enhanced by parents and teachers as we know that one of the most important factors to a young person’s mental wellbeing is their ability to communicate their difficulties in some way.

For young people going through adolescence, feeling accepted is so important to them. On our journey through life, we know that we feel accepted by some people but not others. We learn along the way to feel okay about that and if we can foster what we learn about ourselves and other people, we can hopefully become stronger for it. Adolescents are really only starting this journey as they have more choice of who to befriend compared with childhood. Similar interests may pull people together and indeed those with totally opposite interests may also develop good friendships. It’s important that the young person feels the friendship overall is a positive one and it enhances their life, even though there may be the odd falling out or disagreement.

However I must highlight that whatever happens in school around friendships, undoubtedly spills over to other aspects of life. Through social media, we are accessible practically 24/7 to our friends and those that are also not our friends. The school setting allows that face to face contact which nowadays is more important to grasp on to and enhance as so much communication outside of school is through the virtual world of social media. Indeed some young people find avenues for friendships trough social media which otherwise they may not have. That of course is positive but I think we must harvest our innate gift of face to face communication and nurture it. What better place to do this than in the school setting.

The school environment is an important place to help nurture friendships. It is a meeting place that is readily available for young people to socialise. It’s important that young people have adults in their lives to look out for them and talk to them. Parents need to be tuned into what’s going on in their children’s lives, especially in relation to their child’s friendships. Good communication between parents and school is important. As we well know the school environment can be experienced as a very unpleasant place for some and again, having support from adults to explore and work through these difficulties with young people and their parents is essential.

Therefore fostering communication between friends, teachers, parents and whoever else is important in a young person’s life is important. This article focused on the importance of friendships in the school setting, however we all know this is so important but what we can do to foster this also goes way beyond the school setting into all aspects of a young person’s life.

Dr. Susan Healy, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Dublin

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