Galway Positive Mental Health foundation conference to hear of befefits of early intervention


Empowering young people to deal with intense societal pressures could result in a sevenfold saving in expenditure on their mental health later on in life, according to the chairman of a conference taking place in Galway tomorrow.

“If we are encouraging a preventative approach to physical ailments, there should be a similar approach to looking after one’s psychological wellbeing from an early age,” Dr Thekiso B Thekiso says.

Thekiso is a psychiatric registrar in intellectual disability at the St Vincent’s Centre on the Navan Road, Dublin, and clinical tutor at St Patrick’s University Hospital, Dublin. He is chairing the Positive Mental Health foundation’s annual conference in the Ardilaun Hotel, Galway, tomorrow.

He says that the financial and health resources involved in treating adults in crisis in their 40s and 50s is seven times what would be required if spent in a preventative way in early years.

Early recognition
Cyberbullying, early recognition of mental health problems, parenting, self-esteem, men’s health, prevention of teen problems, substance abuse and the link between sport and activity and mental health are among the themes which tomorrow’s event aims to explore.

Speakers will include Dr Jonathan Egan, lecturer in clinical psychology at NUI Galway (NUIG), who will talk about early diagnosis of mental health issues; Dr John Kelly, senior lecturer in pharmacology at NUIG, who will discuss substance abuse; and Rhiannon Fritter, community developer with BulliesOut in Cardiff, Wales, who will focus on cyberbullying.

BulliesOut provides help, support and information to individuals, schools, youth and community settings. The Welsh charity identifies bullying as one of the core issues affecting the emotional, social and academic wellbeing of young people.

A conference forum will involve Garda juvenile liaison officer Michael Heaney, Galway senior hurler David Burke, psychologist Eileen Kelly, and Fr Dick Lyng of the Augustinians in Galway.

Conference workshop leader Pauline Folan, who comes from a social studies background, says the aim is to encourage teenagers to come up with ideas.

Social media pressure
“We adults have never had to deal with the kind of pressure that young people are exposed to today, due to Facebook and other social media,” Folan says.

Through her work with Positive Mental Health, she has found that adolescents have many positive suggestions to make when participating in transition year programmes run in schools by the charity.

“We give them the language as part of eight modules in the six-eight week programme,” she explains. “These range from peer pressure and self-esteem to lifestyle, and knowing when one is in crisis,” she says.

“It has been very successful, but so much more could be achieved if there were sufficient resources to provide more for a greater duration of the school cycle,” she says.

While a certain amount is being achieved by teachers as part of the primary and secondary school curriculum, research shows that 70 per cent of students preferred outsiders to present mental health programmes, Folan points out.

“The reality is that kids find it hard to open up to teachers about these issues,” she says.

Thekiso supports the view that early intervention requires a follow-through.

“Reducing the stigma around talking about mental health, and empowering young people with coping strategies can reap so many benefits,” he says

The big advantage on working with schools is that peer group discussions can be more successful than one-to-one intervention.

“If you think of it, encouraging group discussions helps kids to be aware that the resources are there, if they need help now or later on,” he says.

More than 2,000 students from Galway city and county and surrounds have benefited from Positive Mental Health initiatives, run by up to 500 volunteers, since its establishment in 2005.

Founder Violet Gavin had lost her 29-year-old daughter, Annemarie, the year before. Through her own work in career guidance, Gavin had become aware of issues ranging from bullying to substance abuse.

The charity, based in Barna, Co Galway, gets “minimal” State support, and depends largely on donations and fundraising by volunteers.

Tomorrow ’s conference, entitled Sailing Through the Storm , is open to the public. Registration takes place from 9.10am in the Ardilaun Hotel, Galway, and cost is €20 , or €15 concessionary, including lunch.