LIFEMAPS

No Health, without Mental Health

If there is one inextinguishable human characteristic, it is our unrelenting perseverance against the odds, to reconnect. Despite the fact that all governments seek to atomise and rule, we continue to find ways to come together. Our sociality prevents any other outcome. It is no secret however, that a mental health crisis has a firm stranglehold on our society. If you have not felt its impact on a personal level, then almost certainly, you will know somebody that has. Consider the deaths by suicide of 4,315 people between 1997 and 2015; many of those deaths taking place in economically deprived estates in North and West Belfast, and many of them young people. Add two further years of lacerating state sponsored cuts to mental health, community and family support services, and perhaps then you begin to see something that resembles the context and conditions in which many people struggle to survive.

But what can we do about it? Where can we turn? There is no single answer, but we can begin to have sensible conversations about our mental health within our families, our friends, and our wider communities. By doing so we break the taboo. Taking control of their own situation, seven young men from the Upper Springfield’s Irish speaking community begin a journey almost twenty weeks ago. With support from both the Thomas Devlin Fund and NI Youth Forum, and facilitated by Glór na Móna’s Youth Team, the group took part in ‘LIFEMAPS’ – a new method of exploring mental health through group work. Exploring your emotions as a young man can be difficult. ‘Macho’ culture teaches young men to supress their emotions and natural impulses. So in order to combat this, the ‘LIFEMAPS’ method allowed practical and experiential learning to take place, which engaged the group and enabled them to develop practical knowledge of how to deal with stress, how to develop confidence and how to be resilient. It also provided them with a space in which they could explore and understand their emotions.

The result of this process was the development of an art piece that now hangs on the entrance to Glór na Mona’s building. The artwork, which explored society’s perceptions of young people, launched officially this week. With more work of this nature to take place over the next year, the young people of the Upper Springfield will have a chance to direct this important conversation. It is only through talking together that we can find our collective voice!