Music and sports stars have joined
psychiatrists, politicians, charities, and companies to ask school
pupils not to make fun of mental health problems.
Up to 300 students will pledge to take a stand
on stigma at the Royal College of Psychiatrists annual World Mental
Health Day event for schools. Health Minister Michael McGimpsey
will lead the way signing the pledge at the Odyssey Cinema in
The pledge has been widely endorsed by the
music industry including Gary Lightbody and the Oh Yeah! Music
Centre Belfast, band General Fiasco, and Small Town America
Records. Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer Jonny
Evans has signed up with the support of the Irish FA, joining
sporting bodies including Sport NI and Cricket Ireland. Companies,
voluntary sector organisations a wide cross section of the
voluntary sector have endorsed the pledge together with MLAs from
all parties. See the list of endorsers here.
In a day packed with learning and fun, the
kids will learn to laugh for their mental health, not at mental
health problems. They’ll try out creative ways to look after their
own wellbeing including a laughter workshop, Zumba dancing, African
drumming and relaxation as well as exploring how stigmatising
mental health can stop people getting help and can make it
difficult to recover from mental health problems.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey will open
the event. Mr McGimpsey said: "The stigma which society attaches to
mental illness must be eradicated. It prevents people from
seeking help, gets in the way of recovery, and erodes the quality
of life of those living with a mental illness. People with mental
health conditions should not be made to feel ashamed or socially
excluded. But this is exactly what stigma does. We
still have a long way to go before society has an open, mature and
constructive attitude to mental health."
Mr McGimpsey will tell the school pupils that "each new generation
brings new outlooks and attitudes. Your participation in
today’s event testifies to that new outlook. You can help consign
this stigma to the past."
Dr Philip McGarry, chair of the Royal College
of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, said psychiatrists had found
huge support for the project. He said: "What we’ve found is that in
Northern Ireland there is a real groundswell of recognition that
mental health stigma needs to stop. People sometimes see tackling
stigma as an impossible task. I think this shows people do care,
and there’s a real message here for young people that they can make
a difference. Northern Ireland has a very high rate of mental
health problems among young people, and it’s important that not
only do they feel safe to get help early, but also that they find
creative ways to look after their mental health."
Dr Stuart Flanagan of Radio 1’s Surgery
programme will host the event. "Each week on the Surgery we have
young people phoning in to talk about issues they don’t feel
comfortable discussing with family or friends. Very often that’s a
mental health issue, because there’s still a taboo around the whole
subject," Dr Flanagan said. "We need to break that down, kids have
to be able to get help from professionals, but also support from
family and friends. One way to start the conversation is by talking
about what keeps us well, and I hate the cliché, but laughter
really is a great medicine, so I’m looking forward to having a bit
of a belly laugh myself."
Maebh Harper, 16, has experienced mental
health problems and knows first hand the stigma that can go with
them. She will talk to Stuart about what she faced, her recovery,
and how she stays well.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists, with the
Western Trust, has commissioned a play, Wise in the Head,
about a young man with mental health problems who stands up to his
attackers, and shows how he copes with his difficulties. The play
stars Patrick McBrearty, named this year as Ulster’s Most Promising
Young Actor, with a cast from Holy Cross College in Strabane.
The Public Health Agency has provided support
to the event. "Promoting positive emotional wellbeing is about
supporting those people looking for help while ensuring that, from
the earliest opportunity, young people start life developing
emotional resilience, to equip them to make the most of their
opportunities," said Chief Executive Dr Eddie Rooney.
"Instead of potential lives and opportunities
being lost, if we can equip the adults of tomorrow to look after
their mental health, the way many of us are now protecting our
physical health, then that is where our future investments, in this
area, will reap the most dividends."
Read further quotes from people who have
endorsed the pledge.
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