Most of us have our heroes. It could be Avicci (who sadly died by suicide) or Ed Sheeran. It could be Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. It could be someone sitting right beside you that only you know. What unites those people that we look up to is often the fact that they have the strength and the courage to express something that needs to be said but that many are too afraid to say. This expression can happen in many ways including through song, political speeches or simple actions. To hear of a 15-year-old launching a campaign to have better mental health supports in schools for children and teenagers makes me think. Here is a hero for our time and our place. For many years our young people have been suffering in ways they should not have to and few are prepared to say that. Now we have a brave and highly articulate person who is not only prepared to say it, but is also starting to take action to try to improve the situation.
When I was Aisling’s age, over four decades ago, perhaps the pressures were not as great, but we still suffered all the pains, anxieties and questionings of the world we were growing up in. There were even less supports than there are now and hospitalisation often happened in cases where it wasn’t really necessary. There was a stigma attached to mental health issues that may be lessening but it is still there. The only real difference between a person who is hospitalised with mental health problems and those who aren’t is that the latter found a strategy to help them through life. Everybody suffers ups and downs throughout their lives so none of us should stand in judgement of or stigmatise those who run in to difficulties.
When you read authors like Freud and Jung and see the breadth and depth of the understanding that began with their work, it is astonishing that people still suffer as they do. Their work began over 100 years ago. For a long time, the knowledge and capability is there to help far more people, but it simply has not been done. That is why the work that Aisling has begun is so important. Here is a young person who is prepared to stand up and say that help should be available to our young people in schools. She is working with her parents and a family friend who has a degree in psychology to put in place supports for anyone who is struggling. She is right to fight the stigma attached to coming forward and admitting you need help. If more people were encouraged to do this and given the supports they need, our young people would suffer less and we would see less of the awful suicides that have plagued us in recent times.
As a man who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in Ireland, I can only say that I wish I had the courage, the intelligence and the wonderfully articulate ways that Aisling has. I know other teenagers and young adults who are similarly fearless in expressing themselves, and this is a very positive development. The willingness to step forward and try to work with professional adults in having the voices of children and teenagers heard shows great empathy and intelligence. The potential for improvements through the work that Aisling is prepared to do is enormous. She may face criticism and attack, but the very fact of what she is doing is helping to break down barriers and stigma.
Many may look further afield for their heroes or people who inspire them. Maybe we should look closer to home at those who are taking on the difficult task of trying to have the voices of our young people heard and respected within our own communities. These are the people who are beginning to shape the society of the future. Perhaps if we listen and work with them we will find that badly needed changes in the communities we live in can really begin to happen. For all of the troubles humanity faces all around the planet, it can still be a wonderful world. If we can only learn to listen respectfully to others, especially our young people, and work together then we, with them, can be the change we wish to see in the world. Harry Long, B.A., Ph.D.
There’s been an amazing response to the article in today’s Irish Examiner with students and news outlets making contact to know more and help us spread awareness, end stigma and promote open discussion around the issue of Mental Health in Irish Schools.
“The approach to mental health in the Irish School system in Ireland must be improved. Student and parent voices are missing from this vital discussion and therefore I am looking to interview students, parents, past pupils and those who also wish to advocate alongside side our voices in order to strive for change.” – Aisling Murphy Transition Year (Founder of the Mental Health in Irish Schools project)
The Mental Health in Irish Schools project will ensure that there is clear affirmative action on consent – (expressed consent by a written statement submitted by electronic means). In where there is a pending participant under the age of 18, the Mental Health in Irish Schools project will abide by TUSLA Children First Child Safeguarding and seek the consent of the parent or legal guardian on their behalf. All applications of interest will be screened by Alison Murphy and Nicki Ringwood.
We would love to interview everyone who expressed interest via Zoom (voice/video) and uploaded to YouYube, however as this is a short-term project (January-May 2021) we will only be selecting a few participants who can help this project spread as much diversity as possible.
Please note that this interview will not speak on any imminent mental health difficulties a participant may be experiencing (such as current thoughts of suicide or talk around self-harm). If you or a loved one is struggling with this, please reach out to your GP or contact one of the helplines listed below for immediate 24/7 help and support:
Pieta House – a free, therapeutic approach to people who are in suicidal distress and those who engage in self-harm: Freephone 1800 247 247 or Text HELP to 51444
Text 50808 – a free 24/7 text service, providing everything from a calming chat to immediate support: Text TALK to 50808 to begin.
Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We believe we have a big resource of student and parent voices willing to be heard when it comes to our call for Mental Health Supports in Irish Schools! Please sign, share and talk about these issues – every signature, share and conversation is a step closer to breaking stigma and helping us be heard.
Hello. My name is Aisling Murphy. I am 15 years old and I am a 4th year student in Dominican College Wicklow. I am currently working with my principal Ms Lorraine Mynes and friend Nicki Ringwood who has a degree in psychology and years of experience in suicide intervention and prevention. We are working on bettering mental health supports in Irish schools.
I started looking into this project last year when I saw my sister struggle with severe anxiety. She missed a lot of school due to this and it made me realize that there needs to be better supports in place for children and teenagers with mental health issues within the school system. I strongly believe that this is an issue that needs to be resolved. The school system does not train teachers how to deal with students with mental health issues. In most schools there is a singular guidance counsellor who is normally also a teacher. Change needs to occur within the school system and I believe student voices are missing from the discussion.
Initially two friends and I set up the Instagram page. When that brought the issue some recognition, my Mum and I got in contact with the IACP who believe supports in school are vital. Nicki Ringwood made contact when she heard what we were doing and myself and Nicki set to work. From there we decided on a plan. I brought the outline to my principal and now we have a plan in place for our pilot scheme for mental health. We have now launched our website, Facebook and TikTok. We want to grow this and expand our reach as the student voice for change. The aim of this project is to better supports and recognition for those within the school system who may be struggling with their mental health and to promote discussion, education and understanding. I am hoping to make this possible within my transition year of school, with a view to providing other students with an outline of the work we do this year, so that they can replicate that in their own schools.