Speeches

Address by Mr. Micheál Martin T.D., Minister for Health and Children at the National Launch of Mental Health Matters

IntroductionI would like to thank the Mental Health Association of Ireland (MHAI) for inviting me here this afternoon to launch Mental Health Matters – a mental health resource pack. An event such as this is testament to the importance the Association places on educating our young people on the importance of positive mental health and well-being. I am particularly pleased to note that the resource pack is aimed at 14-18 year olds. As a former Minister for Education and now as Minister for Health and Children, I am very conscious of the importance of promoting both positive mental health and an appreciation of mental health issues among young people. I also welcome the co-operation with the Transition Year Support Team (Dept. of Education and Science). Mental Health Matters aims to:

  • present mental health as a distinct concept integral to our daily lives, the maintenance of which is vital to physical health;
  • address the issue of mental health in a realistic and relevant manner appropriate to the age group;
  • challenge young people’s attitudes and misconceptions as regards mental illness;
  • look critically at society’s attitude to mental illness and the factors which influence such attitudes;
  • make young people aware of the services and facilities available should they, a member of their family, or a friend require them;
  • provide resource material which in its methodology and content is informative for any school which intends to introduce a module on mental health into Transition year.

I am pleased to note that Mental Health Matters includes a supporting video and is currently being piloted in a number of schools throughout the country.

Mental Illness

Mental illness has traditionally been a hidden illness that people were embarrassed to talk about. We are all aware of the pressures on young people such as bullying, emotional distress, addictions, peer pressure and exam pressure. We often tend to think that people are weak if they suffer from anxiety, depression, inability to cope, or have suicidal tendencies, but it is widely acknowledged that one in four women and one in ten men will experience depression during their lifetime. Many of these people are successful people, role models, celebrities who we all know.

Mental Health Matters will contribute significantly to combating the ignorance and stigma which often surrounds mental illness especially among young people. This enables people to talk about their feelings and emotional problems and to seek help without fear of being labelled a failure.

Better understanding of mental illness encourages people to access professional help sooner rather than later, and this facilitates early recovery. We must also continue to improve the quality of life of people with long standing recurrent or acute mental health problems and that of their families and friends.

Mental Health Association of Ireland

I would like to formally acknowledge and to thank the Mental Health Association for its work in educating public opinion about mental illness. This has helped to create a more tolerant attitude to mental illness and has helped prepare the way for the significant changes which have taken place in our mental health services.

Last year the Mental Health Association of Ireland produced a Strategic Plan which outlined the workplan of the Association for the period 2000 to 2005. This is a very important initiative from the Association. In line with the main aim of the Association, to promote positive mental health, the plan identifies a number of key areas which will receive priority over the next five years.

Volunteers within the MHAI also play a pivotal role in addressing the organisation´s aim of promoting positive mental health. Projects in this area include:

  • organising conferences and seminars on mental health issues such as stress and depression;
  • managing the national public speaking project for post primary schools and colleges;
  • publishing articles on relevant topics;
  • the provision of information on mental health topics through printed material and the MHAI website.

Importance of Voluntary Organisations

My Department recognises the importance of early intervention and positive mental health and also the important work of voluntary agencies, including the Mental Health Association of Ireland, which works hand-in-hand with the statutory agencies. The Department of Health and Children has supported and developed many initiatives over the past number of years in the area of young people’s health (including mental health), often in co-operation with the voluntary agencies.

I would like to take this opportunity to commend the commitment and dedication of the volunteers working through the Mental Health Association of Ireland whose work brings about so many benefits to the community as a whole. Their input is invaluable in not only providing support for those most vulnerable in our society but also in heightening awareness of the importance of self-help and empowerment of the individual in attaining positive mental health and in overcoming the crises of life.

The success and effectiveness of this Government’s policy to develop a comprehensive community-based mental health service is dependent on the active involvement of voluntary organisations such as MHAI. The Government is committed to encouraging the activities of MHAI and other voluntary organisations both at national and local level. We recognise the critical role played by the voluntary sector and the importance of health boards continuing to support and work closely with voluntary groups.

Conclusion

The future of our mental health services holds many challenges. I am certain however, that the way forward can be made easier and more productive through the continued co-operation of both the state and voluntary organisations and the exchange of information, which is exemplified by the launching of this resource pack. May I conclude by thanking you all in the Mental Health Association of Ireland for your ongoing commitment to working on behalf of people with a mental illness. I wish you ongoing success with your work and I assure you all that your generosity of time and energy is greatly appreciated.