Exercising Your Mental Health – The Role of Elected Members in promoting Health and Well-being through Physical Activity

Speech by Mr. Tim O’Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the Kerry Mental Health Association Conference in the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney

I would like to thank Kerry Mental Health Association for inviting me to address you today and I very much welcome the opportunity to contribute to this conference, the theme of which is “Exercising Your Mental Health – The Role of Elected Members in promoting Health and Well-being through Physical Activity.

The attendance of so many public representatives is very welcome and is an indication of the importance of mental health promotion.

This occasion presents me with an opportunity to discuss with you recent developments within the mental health services. It also allows me to acknowledge and recognise the importance and value of the work of Mental Health Ireland in highlighting and responding to the needs of those in our society who suffer from mental ill-health.

I am sure many of you are familiar with the saying “a healthy mind in a healthy body”. Physical activity is very important for health and well-being, as well as for disease prevention and treatment. There is a general move away from physically demanding work. This, together with the increasing use of automated transport, technology in the home, and more passive leisure time all contribute to lower levels of physical activity. Inactivity is one of the five contributing factors to cardiovascular disease – the single largest cause of death in Ireland, as well as smoking, poor diet, stress and raised levels of cholesterol and blood pressure. Some of the benefits of regular exercise are:

  • Better health;
  • Positive mood;
  • More energy;
  • Enhances self-esteem and self-confidence;
  • Helps reduce stress, depression and anxiety.

My Department promotes walking as a good way to be active through campaigns such as ‘get a life, get active’ and ‘let it go’ and ‘Every Step Counts…. Small Changes Make a Difference. I am confident that as public representatives you will do all you can to spread the word.

We have excellent role models in every sphere of sport in Ireland. It gave me great pleasure to join with Munster in celebrating becoming only the second Irish team to win the Heineken Cup competition since it commenced a decade ago. The Munster team have been great ambassadors for Irish rugby and represent what can be achieved through hard work, commitment and perseverance. All Irish people should be proud of this magnificent achievement.

Sport also has a special part to play in combating the problems of drug abuse, crime and social exclusion, particularly among young people living in areas of social and economic disadvantage. Top performances in the sporting arena, both nationally and internationally, based on a drugs-free philosophy of sport, provide positive role models as well as enhancing our sense of national achievement, and the image of Ireland overseas.

Kerry Mental Health Association has played a major role in educating public opinion about mental illness and mental health issues. It has been active in creating a more tolerant attitude to mental illness and has contributed to the significant changes which have taken place in the delivery of mental health services throughout the country. With the increasing pressures on young people today, such support is truly needed. Many of the services provided by the Mental Health Associations nationwide are run in close co-operation with statutory mental health services and with the support and backing of the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive.

In schools and within society generally, the promotion of positive mental health will contribute significantly to combating the ignorance and stigma, which often surrounds mental illness. Better understanding of mental illness encourages people to access professional help sooner rather than later and this facilitates early recovery. Eventually, with time and education, hopefully the stigma will fade further away, and when that day comes it will mean that at long last, society will have accepted all people with disabilities, in every form, and they will be treated with human kindness and given the rights they deserve.

In recent times there has been increased recognition of the need to address mental health as an integral part of improving overall health and well-being. In fact mental health is now accepted as being as important as physical health, with poor mental health having a significant impact on a person’s quality of life and their contribution to society.

The promotion of positive mental health is a very broad concept that emphasises the improvement of the psychological health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. It is not about mental health problems but rather focuses on the promotion of positive mental health for everyone. It is important to note that the responsibility for the promotion of positive mental health does not rest solely with the health services but should be part of all our daily lives, in school, at work and in the wider community. Most health promotion initiatives e.g. encouraging physical activity also include an element of mental health promotion.

In the field of mental health promotion it is also important to recognise the sterling work of community and voluntary organisations. The government, and the Department of Health and Children, are committed to supporting and working with voluntary organisations in the promotion of better health and well-being across all sectors of the community.

The vision that guides the policy outlined in the recently-published Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy “A Vision for Change” requires that mental health services be characterised and led by a partnership between all stakeholders. A comprehensive mental health care system requires that services at all levels – from community support groups, to voluntary groups, to primary care, to specialist mental health services – work in an integrated, coordinated fashion for the benefit of all people with mental health difficulties.

One of the fundamental principles of the report is ‘recovery’, in the sense that people with mental illness can and should be facilitated in reclaiming their lives and becoming involved in society – i.e., to be ‘socially included’. To achieve this, people need supportive mental health services, but they also need supportive communities where actions are taken to address basic needs such as housing, employment and education. All of these elements are included in the vision for the future outlined in this report.

A modern healthcare accepts that each person must play a central role in their own treatment of recovery. It recognises that each individual plays a critical and essential role in the assessment of their own needs and that quality of care is inextricably linked to the involvement of the user in determining their health care.

In drawing up this policy, the Expert Group carefully considered the various core values that are intrinsic to the design and delivery of a quality mental health care service: services should be person-centred and adapted to each individual’s needs and potential; services should be delivered by skilled professionals working together in community-based multidisciplinary teams, where the contribution of each member is valued and where skills and expertise are combined to design and deliver integrated care plans; the range of interventions offered should be comprehensive and should reflect best practice for addressing any given mental health problem.

Voluntary Organisations and their members have an essential role in a community-based mental health service. Voluntary bodies operating alongside statutory health services form an integral and vital element of the system of health care in this country. I would like to take this opportunity to commend the commitment and dedication of the independent voluntary organisations whose work brings 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 research and education in this area. I am sure that all of us here today, share a keen sense of admiration for the magnificent work done by such organisations over the years. The mental health services, both statutory and voluntary, have met the challenges of change in recent years with enthusiasm and vigor and I am confident that the further development of our services, in a spirit of partnership between statutory and voluntary bodies, will be approached in the same positive manner.

I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Kerry Mental Health Association on their achievements to date and to wish the organisation continued success in its future endeavours.

Finally, I would like to stress the Government’s commitment to the development of services for those suffering from mental illness. I am confident that we can build on the substantial progress to date so that we can all work together to bring about a mental health service worthy of the Ireland of the 21st century.

Thank you