It’s has been a busy few weeks, between paddling, training and working. This weekend I have been doing some administration for the trip and have been struggling with the difficult decision of choosing a charity to paddle around Ireland for. Back in June I decided that I was going to raise money for a mental health charity, a cause that is close to my heart, as I have worked first hand with people in the grips of mental illness as a youth development worker in Belfast.
Photos - A solo paddle to Twywn to meet my friend Becca (Photo credit to her) for tea | Expedition with an amazing group of young adults, its not every week in Wales you get sunshine!!
Over the past 10 years, I have worked with young people facing massive challenges in their lives and wanting striving to make positive changes to their situation and build their confidence. Research shows 1 in 5 people experience mental health problems (a massive and surprising statistic in my opinion), and I feel that poor mental health is the one of the most overlooked illness in Ireland and the UK. Many health professionals are forced to react to mental health issues, rather than being able to offer a more proactive approach to people for example, counselling. There seems to be a lack of resources and time in the field. In response to the limited time and resources available, many healthcare professionals are forced to take little more than a reactive approach to dealing with poor mental health, prescribing medication and admitting patients to hospital, rather than being able to offer more preventative measures such as counselling.
The government in Ireland and the UK have made massive cuts in areas that promote healthy and positive life style such as charities that work with people through youth programmes, community centres and even our outdoor centres. This has caused organisations to close down or they have ended up with depleted resources to work with the people who need support.
On a personal level, I have struggled with my own mental health over the years. I was diagnosed with depression when I lost my job due to the youth organisation I worked for closing down 3 years ago – Challenge for Youth. I have suffered anxiety and a deep sense of sadness and loss at other points in my life, with no understanding or real reason for feeling that way in most cases. Luckily I have been fortunate enough to find strategies to deal with my mental health such as, kayaking, climbing, being active, taking time to read or listen to music. I have come to appreciate taking that time outside to reflect on what is going on in my head, really helps me clear my negative thoughts and rationalise. And yes, I still have bad days where my bed is the only place I want to be. But I have learnt how to deal with those days a little better. Not attacking myself for having a ‘shit’ day and listening to my body, mind, what it needs there and then.
I must admit I have not been overly open about my mental illness due to the stigma that is attached to it. It is difficult to explain to someone you are ill, when they cant see any physical signs of illness like you would a broken leg. The most challenging part of having the days when I am not feeling well, are going back to work or see friends after being off, and facing those people who think of you as a happy, sociable and enthusiastic person and feeling obligated you need to be that person, when you feel the complete opposite. Writing this I squirm, thinking of my friends and colleagues that will read this, BUT hopefully it will give other people the courage to speak up about mental health. It’s not something you can just ‘snap out of’ or it is not ‘just in your head’. We would not say this to a person with a broken leg, ‘you are fine it’s all in your leg’. It is outrageous, when you of our mental health in this way!!
Growing up in West Belfast, sadly I have known of so many young adults taking their own lives. In the North of Ireland it is estimated 6 people take their own life every week. One hundred and thirty-two of the deaths involved people aged between 15 and 34, while five were aged 75 or older.
Mental health has such a wide spectrum from alcohol/drug misuse, self-harm, eating disorders to depression – the list goes on. There are some fantastic organisations out there working on these issues with people, and I would love to raise money for them all. However, I have decided to support and raise money for Inspire (the new name for Niamh, the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health). It is a charity and social enterprise based in North of Ireland focusing on promoting wellbeing for all through mental health, intellectual/learning disability and professional wellbeing services locally, across the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
It has been super difficult to choose just one charity however, I felt Inspire has a holistic approach to working with people with poor mental health and are proactive in their method. If you would like to find out more about Inspire please follow the link to:
I hope by raising money for Inspire, I can create awareness of what is available to people of all ages and also hopefully break down a lot of those barriers that are attached to Mental Health illnesses. I would appreciate any support for Inspire, if you would like to sponsor me, you can via Just Giving logo. Click on it below.
Thank you for taking the time to read about an issue that is very close to my heart!