The value of positive mental health

Positive Mental Health (PMH ) deals with societal mental health issues for adolescents in Galway. It delivers one module per week over an eight week period through trained facilitators, and focuses on a number of topics including bullying, feelings, emotions, self-esteem, stress, lifestyles, media, peer pressure, loss, and grief. Its aim is to allow adolescents to express themselves and learn coping skills that will enable them to deal with inevitable challenges of life and mental health issues.

PMH hopes to fill a gap in the health and education sectors where many feel there is a deficiency. It targets 14-to 18 year-olds, many of whom are under a lot of pressure due to examinations. Some have other pressures, such as a girl’s body image or boys who feel they must be macho and can mask their feelings. Others are struggling with self doubt, the inability to say ‘no’, bereavement, low self esteem, and not being able to talk to their parents in a non-confrontational manner. PMH strives to identify risk factors at an early stage and offer peer counselling, and a strong support system will help young people attain their maximum potential.

Through continual evaluation from all participants, evidence strongly suggests that programmes such as this receive recognition and awareness. It is an investment in the long term mental and emotional health of the community, the county, and the country.

The enormous potential of schools as a setting for mental health promotion has also been championed by policy documents in recent years. The World Health Report of 2001 stated “Schools can and should enable children and adolescents to develop sound and positive mental health”. The US Surgeon General also advocated the school as a major setting for such prevention interventions.

Teenagers have to cope with physical and social changes, the shift from concrete to analytical thinking, the transition from single teacher to multi-staffed, self development, self organisation, and peer relationships. They also have something to say. It is here that adults feel the most inadequate, especially parents, and the school is a safe setting for discussion and for establishing a rapport with trained facilitators and PMH are fortunate to have trusty, dependable volunteers who foster mutual respect, understanding, and listening. The students are receptive, enthusiastic, and enjoy each topic.

PMH has received widespread praise since its inception in 2005. At the launch, Gareth O’Callaghan said “There is a huge void to be filled in the health / education sectors, a deficiency that in our time is leading to a fringe of uncertainty and a downward spiral into darkness ..... our conviction is that this cycle can be reversed with early training and education and a strong support system. We feel peer counselling and a strong support system will help young people attain their maximum potential.”

At Annie’s Ball in 2009, Dr. Tony Byrne commented “Positive mental health requires a positive self-image. One of the many causes of youth suicides is poor-self-image. Ireland has the fifth highest rate of youth suicide among the 27 EU countries. The Positive Mental Health Foundation is committed to encouraging young people to improve their self-image and self appreciation. This foundation deserves the generous support from the public.”

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