Speech for Minister Moloney for Launch of Union of Students in Ireland’s ‘Mental Health Week’IADT, Dun Laoghaire

I would like to thank: Rebecca Murphy and Union of Students of Ireland for the invitation to launch USI’s ‘Mental Health Week’.

I am delighted to be here this morning in the Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Dun Laoghaire and to be part of this event.

I welcome this awareness week which I hope will encourage and promote the importance of good mental health amongst young people. The importance of promoting positive mental health, not just among individuals experiencing mental health difficulties, but across the entire population is well recognised.

As we know, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some stage in our lifetime so there must be openness and discussion on the whole area of mental health. I, therefore, wholeheartedly commend the USI, as part of Mental Health Week, in distributing over 20,000 mental health awareness packs nationwide to third level colleges.

By becoming more aware of our mental health, by developing our individual strengths we are more able to bounce back from the challenges and setbacks that life presents. By becoming resilient, problems won’t automatically disappear, but it often enables us to see beyond the sometimes overwhelming challenges, enjoy life more and handle future stressors better. Our focus I believe should be on developing our psychological strengths.

As Minister of State for Disability and Mental Health, one of my main priorities is to break the taboo which often surrounds mental health and encourage people to talk.

The fear of what others might think often deters people from seeking help and support. Stigma is, I believe, the most damaging factor in the life of anyone who has a mental health problem. It humiliates and embarrasses; it is painful, it generates stereotypes, fear and rejection and leads to terrible discrimination. But, the greatest tragedy of all is that stigma keeps people from seeking help. Once people realise that it is okay to need help, then we are on the right road. That is why I would encourage students to talk to friends, family or each other. To avail of the confidential support services that are available on campuses.

I am so pleased that your Mental Health Week is being run with support from the ‘See Change’ Campaign. To date we have held very successful community fora in Dublin, Donegal, Limerick and Clare. This evening I will be in Wexford attending another community forum. It is, I believe, important that we listen to what the public have to say on issues relating to their mental health.

A network of national and local organisations across the country will carry the anti-stigma message through local broadcasts, local print media and a range of other activities. The Campaign will run at least into 2012 and it is hoped that by the end of that period, people with mental health problems will find it easier to participate as valued members of society with access to meaningful employment, appropriate housing and positive interpersonal relationships.

However, I know that we will not eliminate the stigma associated with mental health problems overnight. But, the ‘See Change’ campaign and indeed Mental Health Awareness events such as this, have the potential to effect change within Irish society and help lay the necessary foundations for a real and positive transformation of how mental illness is perceived.

With the recorded increase in suicide and deliberate self harm numbers here in Ireland in 2009, it is vital that we work together in the fight against suicide and self harm and that begins with eliminating the stigma associated with a mental health illness. And we must remember that mental illness is an illness, just like diabetes or cancer, in that it is treatable but that the longer the illness is ignored, the worse the person gets.

Ireland has experienced many changes both economically and socially in recent years. It is important to acknowledge the strains many people, including young adults, may be experiencing for the first time in coping with a very difficult economic environment. The worries of trying to cope with college life and all it entails, from perhaps living away from home for the first time and what can a liberating experience for some can be highly stressful for others to the pressures of exams. These pressures can make for an extremely difficult time for any young person.

Finally, I would once again like to congratulate everyone involved and wish you every success in Mental Health Awareness Week. Let’s make sure that we not only pay attention to our physical health, but equally our mental health.

Thank you.