Speech for Mr Tim O’Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the Conference of Partners for Health in Education

‘Self-Esteem – ‘something inside so strong’…. Supporting Parents/Guardians and Young People In Promoting Positive Emotional and Mental Health’

Ladies and Gentlemen and Young People I am delighted to be here with you today to address this important conference.

The importance of this conference resonates at two levels.

Firstly, the evidence tells us very clearly of the importance of the family and parents and guardians in supporting the development of positive mental and emotional health. The family is generally considered one of the most important locations of socialisation, and therefore of influences, for its members, especially children. Stable family circumstances have been shown to aid the emotional development and well-being of children and adults. There is considerable evidence to show that dysfunctional and negative family circumstances can lead to emotional behaviour problems in children, depression in adults and related social and lifecycle difficulties for both groups. In contrast, it has also been demonstrated that positive family influences have the opposite effect.

There is significant evidence also to suggest that experiences within the family-setting are a major influence on the well-being of both adults and children. For this reason I commend the organisers of the Partners for Health in Education conference for responding to this evidence by hosting this conference which is a very practical step towards providing parents and guardians with the support they need to enhance their role in enabling positive mental health in their families. But mostly I would commend you as parents and young people for coming out today, taking time out of your busy lives to hear and learn more about the ways in which you can continue to grow and develop the way mental health is promoted in your lives.

The second reason why this conference is of great importance is due to the central theme which is that of supporting self-esteem and positive emotional and mental health. The importance of promoting positive emotional and mental health needs to be central in all health strategies to meet the challenge of increased mental health problems globally. This Government’s commitment to mental health has been copper-fastened in the recently launched National Policy Framework for the mental health services “A Vision for Change”. The report, which was developed by the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, is the first comprehensive review of mental health policy since 1984. The report outlines an exciting vision of the future for mental health services in Ireland and sets out a framework for action to achieve it over the next 7-10 years and proposes a holistic view of mental health. An integrated multidisciplinary approach to addressing the biological, psychological and social factors that contribute to mental health problems is at it’s core. This comprehensive mental health policy framework outlines a set of values and principles that will guide both Government and service providers into the future.

The ideology and theory of mental health promotion is central to this policy framework. I believe that promoting mental health and well-being will be a key to the success of this policy framework. Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness or mental ill health. It is a positive sense of well being and an underlining belief in our own and others’ dignity and worth. Mental health is essentially about how we think and feel about ourselves and about others and how we interpret the world around us. It affects our capacity to manage, to communicate and to form and sustain relationships and to cope with change and life events. Mental health is central to all health and emotional well being, because how we think and feel has a strong impact on physical health. Mental health, like physical health, is a resource which needs to be promoted and protected. Positive mental health is important in its own right and is a resource for individuals, communities and nations. It is important to recognise that all of us have mental health needs, therefore Mental Health Promotion involves any action to enhance the mental well being of individuals, families, organisations and communities.

Mental health promotion is essentially concerned with:

  • How individuals, families, organisations and communities think and feel
  • The factors which influence how we think and feel, individually and collectively
  • The impact that this has on overall health and well being

Mental health promotion works at the three levels of:

  • Strengthening individuals – by increasing emotional resilience through interventions designed to promote self-esteem, life and coping skills, e.g. communicating, negotiating, relationship and parenting skills.
  • Strengthening communities – through increasing social inclusion and participation, improving neighbourhood environments, developing health and social services which support mental health such as anti-bullying strategies at school, workplace health, community safety, and childcare and self-help networks.
  • Reducing structural barriers to mental health – through initiatives to reduce discrimination and inequalities and to promote access to education, meaningful employment, housing, services and support for those who are vulnerable.

Interventions to reduce stress in the workplace, to tackle bullying in schools, to create healthy physical environments and to reduce fear of crime all contribute to health gain through improving mental well being, in addition to any impact they might have on preventing mental disorders.

Research shows that the promotion of positive mental health in schools and families will lead to improvements in children’s educational attainment and will reduce the risk of anti-social behaviour.

The work of my Department and the Health Service Executive in partnership with many other agencies and other government Departments has resulted in very positive developments to support mental health such as Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE), Mental Health Matters, Mind Out positive mental health programme; community health development initiatives; workplace stress reduction programmes, work life balance initiatives. Programme such as these at the National and Local level must be supported by society as a whole and also in families and homes if they are to become meaningful and real for the lives of young people and indeed for parents and guardians.

I hope that, when the conference concludes, all of us will have a better understanding of the role parents and young people can play in supporting positive and emotional mental health and that we can all play our part in putting positive mental health centre stage in our homes and in our lives.

I would like to once again thank the organizers, and particularly Martha Sweeney for inviting me here today and I wish you every success.