Male anorexia and teenage suicide among issues raised at young innovators forum

Students from 28 schools in Leinster and Munster gather to highlight the issues than most concern them

 Members of Gorey Community School with their Project Smile, promoting positive mental health and making people happier at the Young Social Innovators event in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Members of Gorey Community School with their Project Smile, promoting positive mental health and making people happier at the Young Social Innovators event in Dublin. Photograph: Alan Betson/Irish Times

Wed, Mar 20, 2013, 17:15

Male anorexia, teenage suicide and the lack of disability-friendly playgrounds were just some of the issues raised at a Young Social Innovators "Speak Out" in Dublin today.

Students from 28 schools in Leinster and Munster gathered in The Red Cow Inn to highlight the issues than most concern them and to present ways of tackling them.

They are among 5,500 students participating in this year's Young Social Innovators (YSI) programme, which aims to foster creativity and innovation among 15-18 year olds.

The student teams are tasked with making a two-minute presentation before the judges on a social problem which affects them or their social milieu.

One team of girls from Holy Child School in Killiney chose to showcase the issue of male anorexia through a series of sketches involving gym-going males.

For their presentation, they enlisted the help of boys from Blackrock College and Presentation College, Bray to show the pressures "to look beautiful" applied to boys as well as girls.

As part of their project, the girls also conducted a survey of students in several Dublin schools which found the issue affected at least one in seven males.

"We were shocked to find how many boys thought it was only a girls' problem," transition-year students Rebecca Meaney, Lydia Wafer and Eliza Casey said.

Prompted by two recent suicides in their community, students from St Mary's College, Arklow, Co Wicklow presented on youth mental health and teenage suicide, using a series of carefully-crafted symbols to illustrate the anxieties of people at risk.

"Suicide is a big issue, not just for the direct family, but for the whole community," students Clionadh Byrne and Amy Byrne said.

If yesterday's presentations were anything to go by, sudden adult death syndrome, farm safety and food poverty also weigh heavily on the minds of Irish teenagers.

Many schools chose to focus on bullying and, in particular, cyberbullying.

Last year two Irish teenagers, Ciara Pugsley (15) in Leitrim and Erin Gallagher (13) in Donegal, took their own lives after being subjected to alleged bullying campaigns on the ask.fm website.

Students from Tallaght Community School chose to take the perspective of the bully, highlighting, that in many cases, bullies were taking out their own pain and anger out on others.

"We think it's a cycle, where the bully is actually bullied and that's why they bully, themselves," students Ciara Daniel and Clare Keating said.

Students from Alexandra College, Dublin chose to highlight the lack of disability-friendly equipment in playgrounds and how this acted as a social barrier to children with disabilities.

Students Mollie Barlow and Phoebe Ting said the team was fundraising to build a disability swing in a park near to the school.

Congratulating participants, YSI chairperson and co-founder, Sr Stanislaus Kennedy, said: "Irish people are renowned for our ability to talk. We need now to place increased emphasis on listening, especially to our young people.

Chief executive Rachel Collier said the aim of the programme is to engage young people in their communities, "to encourage them to use their creativity to respond to social need"

"Education for social innovation is about learning that each of us can positively shape society through the actions we take."

Some 60 projects will eventually be shortlisted for a special YSI showcase awards ceremony in May.