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Ulster University’s 15th Annual Mental Health Conference highlighted the inherent challenges that exist within a modern society for young people and the potential adverse effects that this can have on their mental wellbeing.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, half of all mental illness begins by the age of 14, but most cases go undetected and untreated. Excessive use of the internet and social media has also seen a rise in cyber-crime and cyber-bullying and suicide and substance abuse numbers have been steadily rising. Young adults are at the age when serious mental illnesses can occur and yet there is insufficient education on mental health and wellbeing.

The strong message coming from the “Young People and Mental Health in a Changing world – a Cross Border Conference” is the need to give young people access to the support they need to grow up happy, healthy and resilient with a good understanding of their own mental health and how to ask for help at an early stage if issues arise.

The conference was co-ordinated by the Ulster University School of Nursing Mental Health Team in collaboration with Co-operation and Working Together (CAWT), the cross border health and social care Partnership. CAWT are managing an EU funded cross border mental health project, called ‘Innovation Recovery and have provided support for the event with funding secured from the EU’s INTERREG VA programme.

Opening the event Mark H Durkan, MLA Foyle, Spokesperson for Health SDLP said:

“Mental health is a massive issue in society today and failure to invest in, explore and implement good practice now will result in issues with mental health being even more prevalent in the future. We need to look after ourselves and look out for each other. We must equip the next generation with the tools to cope with the bouquets and the brickbats that life will inevitability throw at them. Positive early intervention and education will not only save millions of pounds it will also save lives.”

Conference Event Manager Marie O’Neill, Lecturer in Nursing and member of the mental health team at Ulster University said:

“This conference has highlighted that the challenges facing young people today, particularly within a modern and evolving technocratic society, can be complex and overwhelming, resulting in a myriad of mental health issues and indeed the onset of mental ill health.

Whilst we have an increasing awareness of these potential mental health problems, many young people are still not receiving the mental health care packages they need and much more needs to be done to promote mental health awareness for young people. Moreover, there is a critical need for mental health services to be much more responsive to the mental health needs of young people in society.”

Also commenting on behalf of the CAWT Partnership, Edel O’Doherty, Deputy Chief Officer said:

“It is important that people are educated at an early age to help them understand their mental and emotional wellbeing. Education in mental health can help not only teach people techniques to maintain a positive outlook but will also help people to learn strategies to cope with the inevitable stresses and adversities of life. Mental health education needs to be brought into schools, communities and homes in order to change the narrative surrounding mental illness from helplessness and lack of control towards optimism, strength and resilience. The EU INTERREG VA Innovation Recovery College will be working towards this vision in the coming years.”

Ulster University’s Institute of Mental Health Sciences (IMHS) conducts globally significant research across several key themes, one of which is Children & Young People's Mental Health.

Professor Cherie Armour, Associate Dean for Research and Director of the Institute of Mental Health Sciences (IMHS) said:

“Unfortunately, mental health issues are prevalent among young people in Northern Ireland with an estimated 45000 children and young people reporting a mental health need at any one time. The IMHS has a responsibility therefore to ensure that the research we conduct has a real and significant impact that both mitigates against the development of disorder and optimises care and recovery for our children and young people in distress. It was a pleasure to bestow the IMHS innagural award for ‘best presentation’ to Noella McConnellogue, Director of Clinical Services, Zest Healing the Hurt.”