Limerick Mental Health Week 2009 Speeches


Thanks to Fiona, Tara, Cian & Ann Kennedy @ St. Nessans Community College Limerick.

Fiona Beville’s Speech:

Ladies and Gentlemen, People are complex human beings. There are many dimensions to our lives and these dimensions are determined by the environment in which we live. Environment is defined as the physical, social and cultural conditions or situations that surround us. We are here to show that these conditions can have a serious impact on our mental health.

I’m going to highlight the social environment, Tara will discuss the physical environment and Kathryn out third speaker will talk about the cultural environment. Our mental health is defined as a state of well being, in which people have the ability to cope with the normal stresses of life in which we can work productively within our community and where there is an emotional balance in our life.

My name is Fiona, I’m 16 years old and like most young people my age, 1/3 of my life is spent within the social environment called school. Within this little society we interact on a daily basis with fellow students, this environment can help destroy or create our development! Dr. Mona O Moore of the anti-bullying centre in Trinity College says that within this social environment, 200,000 students are victims of bullying. It has been described as a “modern social evil” “the Culture of silence”. 3 out of every 10 incidents go unreported.

Bullying is defined by the department of education as repeated verbal or physical aggression conducted by an individual or group against others. When this happens there is absenteeism, depression, personality changes and sometimes suicide.

Depression is the most common of all the mental disorders. It is characterised by fatigue, despair, lack of concentration and very very low self esteem.

The ruthlessness of bullies and the suffering of their victims are best described by an American researcher, Patrick Tolan when he said “Bullies are like the lion looking for the deer that has left the herd. They try to single out the weakest kid.” This is exactly what happened to Leanne Wolfe, the 18 year old Cork student, who committed suicide.

As I read through her diaries, one message is clear- life was a living hell for her, and I quote; “they thumped me straight into the face “They egged my car” “All I’m thinking about now is killing myself.” The lion had singled out Leanne and through constant bullying left her socially excluded, depressed and she took her own life.

On the morning of her funeral, her sister found her diary. When they read it, her mother said she did not recognise her own daughter and felt so guilty. Ladies & gentlemen doesn’t this just show the lonely isolated world of the suffering victim? Her mom is convinced that if the people were more conscious of Leanne’s bullying problem in school, she would be alive today. The family allowed her diary to be released and during anti0bullying week in October, a copy of it was sent to all schools. It breaks the silence on the torment of a suffering victim. To date this has won several awards in Ireland & America. This is evidence that bullying is such a huge problem and has a major impact on people’s mental health.

Many of today’s bullies use technology-this is called cyber bullying. Victims receive unwanted text messages, phone video recordings or web posts being used to threaten or harm someone. Ann Lynch of the national parents’ council tells us that bullying still remains the main reason why parents and students contact them. 13% of victims have changed their phone numbers.
As pupils leave the school environment, 1 in 5 victims are afraid to walk home-we know the evidence is there… Parents have to collect their children from school. We must realise that our social environment within the school keeps changing. Take for example special needs students who have ADHD-that is students with hyperactivity & attention disorder. When we researched this topic on we found that a recent study in Sweden shows that ADHD students are 4 times more likely to be bullies. We must realise that the medication which these students are on, help with their attention span only, it does not stop them from being bullies.

But the bullying does not stop once the victims leave the school gate. If 8 out of 10 young people use bebo, the torture can continue within the privacy of their own bedrooms and unknown to parents, bullies continue to ruin other students’ lives.

Mental health Ireland encourages us to confide in family, friends or counsellors to help us so if the victims don’t do this they remain unhappy within their home environment.

In case we think we are under any illusions; young people are not the only bullies. 40% of employees in the work place suffer in the same way as young people. Many become socially excluded by having to leave their place of work and cannot any longer contribute to their work environment.

Mairead Gaffney, a senior psychologist in Mental Health and Social Exclusion, in a report in 2004 strongly stressed the importance of returning to work. Work means social inclusion.

As we speak the Irish Examiner reported recently 30% increase in bullying in the work place. This is due to economic down turn, and those most vulnerable are suffering, especially non-skilled or semi-skilled workers. During our research, we came across a website called Spun out has won a HSE award because provides a friendly, accessible and quality non-stop source of information, support and help to those suffering. Just like the first ever walk-in mental health clinic in Ireland located in galway.

The employment equality act 1998 is there to protect workers within their work environment. Anti-bullying policies in school must protect against bullying and be updated regularly. . If procedures are not followed through, the suffering continues and all the policies in the country are useless. They may as well become dead documents gathering dust in some principals or managers office.


Tara Kelly’s Speech:

Oscar Wilde once said: “When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment.” In the context of this topic being discussed, I think that this is a relevant quote. If man has a sense of well-being and is emotionally balanced, his mental health will thrive within the environment in which he lives… I would like to discuss the impact of the physical environment on our mental health. When I talk about the physical environment, I mean the built environment, especially within socially disadvantaged areas, where there are dilapidated buildings, unattractive landscapes, high unemployment and high rise apartments where there is no accessibility to education and social services.

In 2003, a British researcher, Gary Evans, wrote a book called “The Built Environment.” He highlighted the importance of how poor housing quality, unattractive buildings with no central heating for example, can lead to stress, anxiety, social isolation and depression – all symptoms of poor mental health. Within this physical urban environment in Ireland, this has proven to be the case.

Take for example the high rise apartments of Ballymun. An environmentalist called Frank McDonald described the building of the high-rise flats as the worst planning disaster in the history of the state. Urban regeneration began ten years ago and although it’s still not the finished vision, it’s getting there. Today the town of Ballymun is people centred. It boasts a new main street, football pitches, art projects, and an ultra modern leisure centre. The local Drugs Task is working successfully. There has been no increase in heroin in recent years and no waiting queues for methadone treatment in this area. This is a far cry from the days of the high rise flats. Bono sings about a desperate and suicidal heroin addict in one of his songs and I quote: I see 7 towers but I only see one way out.

Private and Public companies have invested in the area. 40% of houses are privately owned.

In 2008, IKEA, the furniture company created 500 jobs in Ballymun. Employment, as Fiona has already said, is social inclusion. A job gives high self-esteem and positive mental health. A salary gives independence and freedom of choice. Any research we have found about unemployment in socially disadvantaged areas highlight how it leads to distress, anxiety and depression- all of which are mental illnesses. A recent study in Britain states that those unemployed spent more time at the doctors, took more medication and spent more time in bed than those employed and who had the very same illnesses. The impoverished urban areas in Limerick might take hope from the regeneration of Ballymun.

There is an upbeat feeling of hope and expectation that the regeneration of the urban physical environment in Limerick City will help improve the mental health of its residents. People can fulfil themselves within their community. The very fact that this project is happening is living proof of the need for a new look.

John Fitzgerald, chairman of this regeneration program said on the Marion Finucane show that not only are we rebuilding houses, but more importantly, we are rebuilding our communities. While we admit that there are other negatives contributing to the social problems in these areas, mental health is one of the most serious in this region. The Limerick branch of Barnados tells us that in the Mid-West Region, Limerick city has the highest rate of self-harm. Self harm means a deliberate injury to ones body without the intent of suicide. It is a means by which people manifest their mental suffering. Limerick City also has the highest rate of methadone treatment patients attending clinics in the Mid-West Region. 70% are from urban areas of Limerick. These facts speak for themselves and portray the need for urban regeneration.

In the past 10 years, a lot of research has been done in both England and Ireland to highlight the mental health of single mothers, living within the built environment. Did you know that single mothers who reside in high rise apartments are most likely to be the mothers suffering from post natal depression? After the birth of a baby, a woman’s health is vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. Imagine living 5 storeys high, without accessibility to social services, without a stable relationship maybe and without an attractive green environment. This really is social isolation and it’s not surprising that her mental health suffers. Added to this is the responsibility of a new baby.

Children equally feel isolated in the same way as mothers so within this unattractively built environment. They have little or no opportunity to play right outside their own door. If you plant a tender flower and nurture it in the right environment, it will grow to blossom to its full potential. In the same way, a child must be nurtured and all physical environments must be child centred. For example, they must have access to libraries, social services, schools, a green environment and natural surroundings. This gives comfort and warmth and according to the Swiss psychiatrist, Karl Young, warmth is a vital element for the growing plant and the soul of the child.
I have talked about the unattractive physical buildings where people have to live on a daily basis within the 4 depressing walls they call home. Add to this, lack of space and lack of privacy which many people experience in socially dis-advantaged areas. For those who do not own their own houses, there is a sense of hopelessness and despair in the community. Man is not happy within in this environment.

So take 4 depressing walls, no space, no privacy, non-ownership of your house… now add to this community noise… You get a lethal cocktail for mental illness. The world health organisation, in a medical journal in 2004, highlighted that community noise is one of the greatest sources of stress in socially disadvantaged area. Noise is defined as unwanted and unwelcome sound, and strikes the very cord of our nervous system. The world health organisation has found that in urban areas, where community noise is greatest, the use of tranquilisers is highest. Tranquilisers are medically given to release anxiety. They are often called anti-anxiety drugs as they relieve sweaty hands, palpitations, fear and sleepless patterns… But they are a only a mask, covering up the serious mental health symptoms which leave people whose lives are disturbed by noise, excluded and emotionally imbalanced. And now, ladies and gentlemen, let me take you back to my opening quote… “When man is happy, he is in harmony with himself and his environment”. I think that I’ve proven to you that when man is not in harmony with his environment, his happiness suffers.


Cian Stephenson’s Speech (Sub: Kathryn McMahon):

Glamour queens in size 2 jeans.

Who are these glamour queens in size 2 jeans?
Making me look in the mirror
And hate what I see
Making me ugly and awkward
Making me eat rice cakes or whatever it takes
To fit into size 2 jeans
Making me punish myself
I hate myself
I hurt myself
I feel disgusted when I give in
To the temptation of sin
But why is it a sin
To feed our bodies
To nurture ourselves
To connect with ourselves…
To be ourselves.

This poem, written by an American teenager, has appeared in a teenage magazine in America. It relates to the mental illness of eating disorders. It has a deep, serious message especially for many of today’s young women who strive for bodily perfection. They want to fit into the size 2 jeans and in the process, they disconnect with themselves and become another person. This poem could be dedicated to the 7 million women world wide who suffer from anorexia nervosa and bulimia.

These are very serious illnesses and affect their sense of well being as well as their emotional balance. Bulimia is characterized by binge eating, followed by a feeling of guilt and then throwing up food. Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder, mainly affecting young women in which they suffer the intense fear of looking fat, avoid food and lose weight. The side effects include fainting fits and blood pressure problems.

But this is the cultural environment in which we live. But what is culture?
Culture is a pattern of behaviour and attitudes of a society at any given time. Culture is how we think judge and perceive what is acceptable and what is not, but most of culture is about IDENTITY. In a celebrity-obsessed world, body perfection is the identity of our time. Body perfection is not just a standard; it is the norm and anything that does not fit the norm is met with peer rejection, social exclusion, verbal and physical abuse to name but a few.

This is a shallow reflection of our culture. The beauty queens in size 2 jeans are the goddesses of our time and they eat into the self esteem and sense of well being of young women today. The cultural environment is fuelled by the presence of the media. It is a sad reflection of our cultural environment that we love and admire the starving women. She has control and discipline over her food intake and she is rewarded by today’s media.

Nowhere is the perfect image more promoted than in the glossy magazine, music videos and films. Media creates an illusion and portrays it as reality. The more women look at the media image of the beauty queen the more depressed they get. In a survey, 80% of women said they felt dissatisfied with their body image after reading a glossy magazine.

They feel forced to attempt the impossible and go outside the boundaries of nature. But airbrushing is a brilliant technique. It portrays perfection, as one top editor of a glossy magazine said “it can straighten teeth, get rid of wrinkles, and take out unwanted bulges”

Women will try anything to re-invent themselves. We can look at the perfect Sharon Osborne. With all her nips and tucks and implants, she makes the average woman envious. But seriously, research has shown us that the sad fact is 20% of these women with eating disorders will die.

As I said, culture is how we perceive and judge what is acceptable and what is not. As well as the body perfect image being the norm, being masculine and feminine is still very much the norm. Despite the open culture of our lesbian and gay young people, despite the positive development of the “belong to youth” project which was set up in 1987 and funded by the Dept of education, despite the equal status act of 2004 which outlaws discrimination against gay and lesbian workers, an accepted discrimination and strange silence still exists against gay and lesbian people.

Research in America shows that homosexual people are 3 times more likely to suffer physical and verbal abuse than their heterosexual partners. This insincere cultural environment has not accepted those who do not fit with the norm of body perfect or being masculine and feminine and has caused a lot of stress, depression and suicide. Even in the school’s today, can we honestly say most schools have a policy on homophobic bullying? I think ladies and gentlemen, the answer is no.

How many people can look at the posters sent to schools by the equality authority and agree with its slogan; “He is gay and we’re cool with that.”

Most of these young people turn to drugs and alcohol for comfort and thus they become socially excluded

Our own president, Mary Mcaleese has expressed her concern about the link between homophobia and suicide. Last October at the youth seminar in Galway, she said everyone has the right to their own sexual orientation and that homophobia was the first cousin to sectarianism. I think this is a good comparison because she herself faced prejudice due to her religious beliefs and her family were driven out of Belfast by loyalists.

She calls for a cultural environment of diversity. Diversity means understanding other people who are different to us.

During the last 3 speeches, we have shown you that there is no question about it. That the physical, social and cultural environment has a true impact on our lives, especially our mental health.

1 in 4 people will suffer from mental illness and will be affected by the environment in which they live. But how can it be any other way ladies and gentlemen because Man and his environment will always be interlinked.

But I will leave you with one thought. That within our community, country and worldwide, we must always remember that mental health is and always should be central to human dignity.

Thank you.


Thanks to Fiona, Tara, Cian & Ann Kennedy @ St. Nessans Community College Limerick.