Report from the ‘Transformations in Youth Mental Health Conference’, Dublin.
Mental health is the number one health issue for young people. Almost 75% of serious mental health illnesses will emerge between the ages of 15-25. Around 1 in 5 Irish young people will experience a mental health problem by the time they reach adulthood. The recent ‘Transformations in Youth Mental Health’ conference gave a clear insight into the importance and future of youth mental health in Ireland. Fittingly held at St Patrick’s University Hospital in Dublin, the conference organised by the Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health, brought together experts in the field of mental health in Ireland.
James Lucey, introducing the conference, pointed out the forward thinking of Jonathan Swift in his vision for St Patrick’s Hospital which was one of the first of its kind when founded in 1747. Lucey linked this forward thinking to the transformatory vision needed today in terms of youth mental health in Ireland. Stephen Kenny TD gave the keynote address and while admitting he is in no way an expert in mental health, he has transformed health services in various countries worldwide in the past. In transforming youth mental health Stephen outlined how we need to use a model of what we are moving from and where we are moving to. There is certainly a lot of change needed for example providing more user friendly services, giving youth more autonomy when dealing with mental illness and concentrating more on early detection.
The plenary address presented the My World Study. This has been the largest and most generalizable study to date on young people and mental health in Ireland. Over 13,000 young people took part across a range of ages. One of the most significant findings of this study is that one good adult is important to the mental health of young people. This seems common sense enough but its importance cannot be played down with over 70% of young people reporting they have a special adult. For those who don’t, they reported significantly higher levels of distress, anti-social behaviour and an increased risk for suicidal behaviour. The study also found that those who share their problems enjoy good mental health but there is worrying percentages of young people who don’t seek help with their problems. 6 in 10 young people reported to be stressed because of their financial situations also. Another finding of the study is that 7% of young people reported having attempted to commit suicide.
Such a rich presentation of information was overwhelming but it didn’t stop there. A total of ten smaller studies were presented relating to youth mental health in Ireland. There was a lot to take in from these presentations and while the range and scale of research into mental health in Ireland is highly encouraging, the results from these studies need to be acted upon. After these presentations we watched a performance entitled ‘Masks’ about young people’s experiences of mental health difficulties from the Youth Empowerment Service based at St Patrick’s. It was a hard hitting performance and it added a new dimension to the talk, words and statistics of the day so far.
The concluding plenary session was very interesting. It was entitled ‘The Hypothetical’ and it was a hypothetical discussion of the state of youth mental health in Ireland in the year 2030. The session was moderated by Conall O Morain and the panel represented all facets of mental health services in Ireland. Of course the state of mental health in 2030 was seen to be a lot better than today but it was more so how it got to its good state that was interesting. There needs to be more focus, more investment from the government and more of an recognition from the general population of the importance of youth mental health.
This was a well put together conference that offered a huge insight into the ‘where we are at’ with youth mental health in Ireland and into the ‘where we need to go’ with it. In recent years youth mental health has finally gotten a foothold and new services are emerging and developing.
There is still a long way to go in dealing with what is the largest type of illness young people have to deal with. Encouragingly, even just being a good role model and positive influence on the young people we work with can make a huge difference. In a world of so much change and pressure for young people we need to recognise that for many young people it is a huge plight to aspire to what society tells them to aspire to, to perform as they are expected to perform and to find contentedness in what they are shown they should be content with. Even though Don Bosco did not explicitly deal with mental health issues in the young people he worked with, the preventive system is a significant way in which to deal with this issue. Giving young people a home, security, reassurance, a genuine faith formation and grounded aspirations within a community context can only help a young person’s mental wellbeing.