Pieta House initiative encourages people to connect, stay active and feel good
The FeelGood with Pieta initiative encourages people to socially connect and keep physically active during the winter months, says Elaine Austin, CEO of Pieta House
The FeelGood with Pieta initiative encourages companies, organisations, and individuals to host events to help diminish the mental health strains encountered through winter. Photograph: Getty Images
“I think the key is to become aware of what we are thinking, how are we feeling, and what we are doing,” says Elaine Austin, CEO of Pieta House.
“We have no control over our feelings, but we can change our thinking and we can change what we are doing.”
The charity’s FeelGood with Pieta initiative runs from October 14th to 27th, and encourages companies, organisations, and individuals to host events that will bring people together to help diminish the mental health strains encountered through winter.
“We want to encourage people to stay connected, stay active, and to take moments to feel good,” Austin says.
“It is so important throughout this time to keep linking in with friends. We feel better when we feel supported and are connected to others. Getting out in the sunlight as much as possible and staying physically active is very beneficial to your mental health. These seem like little things but they really help, and we have the opportunity now before we get into the winter to think about how we can introduce those elements into our lives.”
Connect, be active, feel good
Creating and maintaining social connections is an important component of a good mental health regime, but can easily be neglected in the winter months as dark and cold evenings can cause more people to stay at home. “It is easier to become isolated at this time of year so it can be very helpful to keep up hobbies, or start up new ones,” says Austin.
The mental health benefits of exercise are also promoted by Pieta House, and a range of events running across the country, from group yoga classes to dog pampering are aimed to encourage people to socially connect, keep physically active, and to treat themselves and feel good, while also raising vital funds for Pieta’s services.
Mental health at work
While mental health has often been seen as a personal issue, it has become more common to see large companies and organisations set up support networks and policies to increase awareness of employees’ mental health.
“I’m very passionate about the area of health and wellbeing,” says Ian Collins, tax partner at EY. Collins also serves as EY’s Health and Vitality sponsor for the firm’s 3,000 employees on the island of Ireland.
“We’ve set up a mental health network and used outside expertise to train a number of our people to be mental health champions. These are employees who are trained to spot potential triggers, and who can point people in the right direction if they do need support or are going through a difficult time.”
Establishing support networks and initiatives has been beneficial to the overall business, according to Collins, by lowering the attrition rate within the firm, as well as increasing employee wellbeing.
“Our employees are our greatest asset and we are committed to continually striving to improve their experience as EY employees so that their physical, mental and emotional needs are factored into everything that we do, and each of the supports that we provide,” says Collins.
Fundraising for services
While initiatives like FeelGood with Pieta and the annual Darkness into Light walk serve to increase public awareness, they also provide a vital source of funding for Pieta House, according to Austin.
“We provide professional level services and support,” she says. “All our therapists are qualified and accredited, and that high level of service is the backbone of Pieta House, and it is essential when dealing with crisis intervention and bereavement support that you have professional clinical staff who are very capable and experienced in these areas.”
Last year over 8,000 people accessed services provided through Pieta House, which includes a 24/7 support line, and offers free of charge face-to-face therapy sessions for people experiencing self-harm or suicidal ideation, and for people who are bereaved by suicide.
“We do recognise that there is definitely a role in prevention and we are finding ways to provide that. We run the Resilience Academy, which is a six-week skills programme in schools. The aim of that is to help younger people take time to think about how they are feeling, to try out different behaviours and provide them with a toolkit for coping in times of stress and crisis.”
“In the first six months of this year we have already had over 5,500 people access our services. 80 per cent of our funding comes from public fundraising and I see it as a very simple business model, the more funding we get the more services we can deliver.”
Companies and organisations getting involved in initiatives like FeelGood with Pieta are not just providing a support to their employees, but they are also playing a part in reducing a stigma of talking about mental health.
“What we did in EY was to have people lead from the top,” says Collins. “We invited some of our partners in the firm to make short videos talking about their own personal experiences in terms of mental health. We found these were received really well, it helped people see that we all have these experiences, and it is OK to talk about them”.
It is a point that Pieta House is keen to continue to work on through providing their services and public outreach. “In Ireland, the stigma attached to mental health is really quite significant,” says Austin. “At Pieta House we feel so passionately and strongly about turning the tide on that. It's so important to us that if someone recognises that they could do with a bit of help, that they feel okay about asking for it, and that we make it really, really easy for them to get. It's about getting the services out there, making the information accessible, and making it as easy as possible for people to get the help they need.
“There are so many ways to stay connected, stay active, and feel good,” says Austin. “And these are very essential things to do this winter, so whether you're a company with a thousand employees, a community group, or an individual, we have pre-packaged event ideas and step-by-step guidelines that you can really make it easy to get involved this year,” she concludes.
For more information and for tips on how to host your own FeelGood with Pieta event, and turn it into a fundraiser, go to feelgoodwithpieta.ie