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'Nobody’s ashamed to say they broke their leg, but there’s still a shame linked to mental illness'

Pieta House’s Resilience Academy aims to help young people deal with mental health issues.

NO FEE 4 Pieta House Resilience Academy RTE’s Eoghan McDermott and Bryan Dobson, and Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee Source: Mark Stedman

A NEW PROGRAMME aimed at helping young people deal with mental health issues has been launched by suicide and self-harm prevention charity Pieta House.

The six-week Resilience Academy targets pupils in second year. It has been trialled in a number of secondary schools and will be rolled out nationally this year.

The modules – which deal with topics such as sexuality, substance abuse, eating disorders, friendship and bullying – were devised through consultation with young people and their teachers, as well as with groups including BeLonG To and Bodywhys.

paul Dr Paul Surgenor Source: Órla Ryan

Ireland has the highest rate of death by suicide among teenage girls in Europe, and the second highest rate among teenage boys.

Dr Paul Surgenor, Director of Research, Education and Training at Pieta House, said there has been a 163% increase in the number of under 18s seeking help from the organisation over the last five years. In 2016 alone, over 1,000 teenagers received treatment at Pieta House.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie at the launch of the initiative yesterday, Surgenor said the Resilience Academy aims to “to give [young people] the coping mechanisms at an early stage so that when it does get difficult for them and when things hit the fan for them, they know how to respond in a positive way … without getting to the stage of actually needing Pieta House”.

The ultimate goal of the Resilience Academy is actually to put Pieta House out of business. If we do this right now and we give them enough skills, resources, supports, when they grow up and they hit challenges, they can handle them and hopefully they won’t get to a stage where suicide is an option.

“There is no point in us trying to second guess what a student, a 14-year-old, is looking for right now. The only way to really get an understanding of the stresses they have is to go into the schools and ask them,” he said.

‘Anyone can experience mental health challenges’

Speaking at the launch, RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson said teenage years are often “periods of great stress and difficulty for young people – you’re growing, you’re discovering about yourself, you’re discovering about the world around you”.

“There are enormous pressures on young people in those years to perform academically, socially, to shine on the sports field … I think that they feel a great deal of stress and anxiety.”

Dobson said he hopes the Resilience Academy will help remove the stigma that is still sometimes associated with mental health issues.

“We’ve a very bad history in this country [when dealing with mental health issues] and you only have to look at some of the institutions in which we used to house those judged to have mental health diseases, thankfully now largely empty as a new approach has been taken.

Nobody’s ashamed to say they broke their leg or they’ve been diagnosed with a disease, but there’s still a shame associated with mental illness and that’s one of those things that I hope this programme is going to be able to tackle.

Dobson noted: “At any stage in life anybody, no matter how they have managed so far, could experience a mental health challenge in some way,” adding that this initiative will give young people lifelong coping skills.

2fm presenter Eoghan McDermott, who has previously spoken out about his own mental health struggles, also spoke at the launch.

“This generation is the first generation to be very slowly equipped with the vocab and the mechanism to deal with a problem that has been simmering for so long.

“Resilience is something that everyone just expects you to be able to develop by yourself. But most of us need a little help. And by allowing students to choose the topics most relevant to them, the Resilience Academy gives young people those vitally important tools and resources,” he said.

Also speaking at the launch, Minister of State for Mental Health Helen McEntee said: “Youth mental health is a key priority for me, it’s a key priority for his government.”

Last year, McEntee launched a National Taskforce on Youth Mental Health to examine the best approach to take in this regard.

“I know we have a long way to go in that regard, I know there are holes within our primary care system, within our acute assessment as well and that’s something we need to continue to work on, but first and foremost if we don’t tackle the prevention we’re never going to move forward,” she said.

McEntee noted the 163% increase in the number of young people seeking help from Pieta House over the last five years is significant, but also a sign that they feel more comfortable in coming forward.

For people of any age who are struggling with mental health issues, Surgenor has this advice: “They are not alone, they are not the first person who has gone through this and there are lots of people in places who can help.

“The most difficult step is asking for help or telling someone that you need help, but if you’re brave enough to take that first step, things will get better.”

If you need to talk, contact:

  • Pieta House 1800 247 247 or email mary@pieta.ie (suicide, self-harm)
  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Read: The number of people self-harming in Ireland is continuing to rise

Read: FactCheck: Has the government actually cut the mental health budget by €20 million?

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