More than 70 young people in integrated education across Northern Ireland had their say on mental health issues at a conference at Drumlins Integrated Primary School, Ballynahinch, today, Thursday 10 October 2019 – World Mental Health Day.

‘Listening … A Mental Health Conference’ was organised by the Integrated Education Fund (IEF) in partnership with Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education (NICIE) and supported by the National Lottery Community Fund.

Teachers from integrated schools* each brought four pupils to present their views and the views of their peers. After listening to young keynote speakers, participants were facilitated in small groups to share their thoughts on the current stresses and anxieties experienced by young people, before generating ideas and actions to develop school-based support.

Harry McGoldrick, a Year 13 student at Drumragh Integrated College, Omagh, one of the conference’s young keynote speakers, said it is very important to him to be involved: “Now in Year 13 and one of the leaders of my school’s Amnesty group, it’s my turn to give back to the community by focusing on improving mental health training and services in Northern Ireland. I am thrilled to be a guest speaker at this event. It is such an honour to be a part of something that could help all of us make changes to how we look at and deal with our mental health and well-being.”

Paul Collins, campaign fundraiser with the IEF, added: “Schools in Northern Ireland have seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people with mental health issues.  These could be anxiety or panic attacks, stress and depression, eating disorders and even, as we sadly know suicidal thoughts.

“The aim of this conference is to provide an open environment to listen to children and young people.  Teachers and parents need to find out what mental health issues are affecting young people in order to provide them with access to the right type of support. On the basis of the group discussions, we hope to develop and deliver a plan that can help to address the mental issues impacting on our young people and their wellbeing.”

Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary of the Department of Health, commented:  “Young people are faced with a number of pressures including social media influences.  Online bullying and exam pressure have all contributed to rising levels of anxiety and stress.  It is important that we equip and educate our young people to deal with these issues and to look after their mental health.  There is support and help available for young people and their families and I urge them to avail of these services.”

The conference has been funded by a grant of £9,130 from the National Lottery Community Fund. NI Director Kate Beggs discussed: “This is an important conference that is giving young people across Northern Ireland the chance to talk openly about the issues they face in relation to mental health.

“I am proud that funding raised by National Lottery players is being used to highlight this issue and young people are part of the solutions being developed by the Integrated Education Fund to provide them with the support they need.”

NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma added: “I have no doubt that I will come away from the conference with new insights and a better understanding how changing pressures continue to impact on our young people’s mental health. Providing an education is about more than academic learning and today’s event is a great example of schools playing a crucial role in promoting and safeguarding the emotional wellbeing and mental health of our children and young people. We must listen to them when they feel unwell and we must learn from them when designing the services they need.”

Conference speakers included Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health; Kate Beggs, Northern Ireland Director of National Lottery Community Fund; and Koulla Yiasouma, NI Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY).

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