A conference on mental health organised for young people by young people is being hailed as a terrific success.
More than a hundred teenagers attended the I Mind conference at Portlaoise Parish Centre on Saturday.
Organised by members of Laois Comhairle na nOg, supported by the Laois County Development Board and Youthwork Ireland, the conference, which is part of the Laois Connect Laois Mental Health Week, was about creating experiences and spaces to discuss mental health, rather than seminars where one person speaks and everyone listens.
The mental health trail brought young people through four twenty minute workshops dealing with spiritual, physical, mental and emotional health, and how they impact on mental wellness.
Former governor of Mountjoy prison, John Lonergan welcomed young people into a room full of choices and no instructions.
Visitors were free to sit where they wanted, listen to music if they wished and he said the organizers wanted him to deal with how important choice and taking initiative are in positive mental health.
Inter-county footballer Ross Munnelly’s physical room showed how greatness is not about being elite, but about meeting the small challenges each of us face.
He said skills learned through sport – like the discipline of going out for training even when we don’t feel like it, are useful skills for life.
Actor Cabrini Cahill brought teenagers on a journey through five key emotions using cloaks to show how emotions are temporarily with us, but we don’t have to identify with them.
She said using Irish phrases, such as ‘ta bron orm’ or ‘sadness is on me’ is a healthier way to think of emotions than to say ‘I am sad.’
Claire Healy’s spiritual workshop involved a fifteen minute meditation session, which students from Scoil Iosagain, Portarlington said they really enjoyed.
Leah Sherlock, Nadine Bolton, Anna Kelly, Rachel Cullen and Tara Knight said it was a good experience.
“I learned not to take myself so seriously and be more open minded,” said Nadine, who found the mediation brilliant and relaxing.
They described the event as really positive, and said they learned lots of tips for use in everyday life, such as the importance of thinking outside the box, taking time to relax and reconsidering the role their emotions play in their lives.
Chairman of Laois Comhairle na nOg, Ger Quinn said he was delighted with the success of the event, and extremely proud of Comhairle members for the work they put in to organize the event.
They did all the work, from arranging the venue, deciding on the workshops and facilitators, to organizing sandwiches and setting up the rooms.
He said feedback from those attending the conference was better than they expected,
“There’s people coming out saying they thoroughly enjoyed it, they loved it, they felt really relaxed,” he said.
He said the aim was for young people to know what mental health is really about, “and we’re only delighted it has given people some hope.”
The project, which has been in the pipeline for almost a year, also offered the services of a counselor on the day.