The mental trauma suffered by young people and the wider community in the aftermath of fatal road accidents can be devastating, according to Breda Friel, lecturer in Community Youth Work at the University of Ulster.
Breda is one of the organisers of a major international conference in Donegal next week (Monday June 20 and Tuesday June 21) which will put both road safety and young people’s mental health in the spotlight.
‘The Road Ahead: Safe Futures and Positive Perspectives’ will bring together experienced practitioners from across different disciplines from the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Australia to their share knowledge, best practice and programmes about road safety and mental health.
While Ireland’s road safety record has shown an improvement in recent years, the Inishowen area of Donegal has witnessed a number of multiple deaths as a result of traffic accidents. Last July 12, eight people – seven of them young men – lost their lives in a two car collision on the Buncrana to Clonmany road in Inishowen in what was the worst traffic accident in the history of the Irish state. In 2006, five Eastern Europeans died in a two-car crash near Buncrana and in 2005, five young people from the Buncrana area were killed in a crash at Quigley’s Point. involving a drunk driver.
Highlighting the need for greater resources to be channelled into providing support for those most affected by tragedies on the road, Ms Friel explains the rationale behind the conference.
“It is important and timely to bring together practitioners from across various disciplines and from different areas to explore these two important issues. On the first day when the focus will be on Young Drivers: the Road to Safety, the conference will consider how road safety can be improved and what steps should be taken to raise awareness about safer driving and how best to encourage safer road use.
On day two the focus will be on Young People’s Mental Health and Wellbeing.
She continues: “The aim of day two is to understand how we can improve resiliency, coping skills a positive perspective and brighter future in youth mental health and well being. The annual suicide rates in Ireland have increased by 24% from 2008 and increasingly those working with young people are witnessing complex mental health needs and those vulnerable to emotional ill health.
“The second day of conference will be a chance to share knowledge about mental health and emotional well being issues and to hear from national and international speakers and about programmes and practice from Northern Ireland and Australia. The views of young people will also inform conference.”
The conference is being organised by the University of Ulster in collaboration with a number of other partners, including Buncrana Town Council, Inishowen Development Partnership, Donegal Youth Service, Health Promotion: HSE, Donegal Road Safety Working Group, National Roads Authority and Buncrana Community Combating Suicide.