Be Well, a discovery of positive mental health
Tara writes about her experience getting involved in her community
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Arklow is like most small Irish towns, grey and gloomy when it rains, occasionally pretty when it’s sunny and not much else happening. In almost 15 years of living there through rainy and sunny days, I had never really heard about positive mental health. See, again like most other Irish towns, mental health is often viewed as something dark and scary that’s whispered about in S.P.H.E classes.
Fortunately, this was about to change. Last Summer, a few of my friends and I went to a workshop hosted by Be Well Bray. We weren’t exactly sure what we were in for, but we hadn’t anything to lose and there’s a strong possibility it was one of Arklow’s rainy days plus there was a free lunch! The first thing they told us was that we all have mental health, just like physical health. It seems like quite a simple statement but I had never thought of it like that before, it blew my mind. I learnt loads that day and the discussion got me hooked. How could I have believed that something so normal and even positive was inherently bad and secretive? How can we change how others view and look after their mental health?
After this workshop, Be Well Bray, invited us to get involved and encouraged us to start our very own Be Well Arklow. As I said with not much else going on in our town and little knowledge of positive mental health, we decided that this group was what we needed, and by the looks of it we were going to start it. Our first meeting was held in our local scout hall, there was about eight of us there and we had little idea about what to do - obviously, we turned to google.
Still struck by the idea that like we all had physical health we also all had mental health, we decided to search both topics. When we googled physical health the first pages to come up were all about keeping fit and eating well. On the contrary, when we googled mental health, links for crisis situations came up along with lists of mental illnesses. We were immediately disappointed, it wasn’t just our town that seemed to view mental health as a negative thing it seemed to be the whole world. Still with little idea of what we could do, we decided to brainstorm and try figure out what we wanted to do. And with that came our mission statement “We aim to promote a more positive and practical approach to mental health among the youth community in our area.”
The other Be Well groups were a big inspiration for us and that is where we found out about the five a day! We all agreed this concept would be one of our core messages. If you can eat five pieces of fruit and do 40 minutes of exercise to keep physically fit, what can you do to stay mentally fit?
- Connect - Have a chat with a friend, ring your auntie, just try and find some time once a day to hang out with other people.
- Contribute - Whatever contributing means to you, if it’s walking your nannie’s dog or coaching soccer, find something that gets you involved.
- Stay Healthy - Your physical and mental health are equally important to each other. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night, and do some exercise.
- Accept - Accept yourself, your life, and your situations. Learn to love yourself.
- Be Aware of Your Thoughts - Understand and listen to what’s going on in your head. Realise that you’re separate from your thoughts.
Arklow already has a youth mental health week, but unfortunately there are no young people involved in the planning of this event and sometimes it can focus solely on crisis situations. Although we acknowledge that awareness about mental illnesses and how to get help is vital, however it is not what Be Well specialises in. Still with our aim to promote mental health as something positive and even fun, we started planning our own events with the help of Be Well Bray. On October 10th, 2016, we had the launch of “Be Well Week” in our youth centre.
A local artist and designer Conso, gave an inspirational talk about being open about mental health and the power of resilience. We had young local musicians perform, a bit of a laugh and food! We also put out conversation cards encouraging people to talk about mental health and what it means to them. On Wednesday, we had led mindfulness and a campfire on the beach. Friday was pizza and discussion night, with walking debates, wall thoughts and of course pizza. On Saturday morning, we had yoga and positive quotes.
In the evening with our activities coming to a close, we got local band Small Town Crisis to play at the skate park. As it started to lash and we’d to try transport all the gear to the youth centre, we all learnt a big lesson about community and resilience. Overall the week was a big success and we have started planning more events to try and change how people view mental health.
Starting Be Well in our town has most definitely changed our perspective on mental health and we hope to change as many young people’s perspective as we can. It would not have been possible without the teamwork and compassion of the ever-growing group. I will be forever grateful for the fellow Be Weller’s friendship, love and dedication. Also to the youth workers who worked so hard for us and by our side. If you are interested in getting involved or have any questions, you can find us on Facebook at “Be Well Arklow.”
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world, indeed it’s the only that ever has.”- Margaret Mead