Raising awareness of mental health issues around the world

By Irish Research Council

Posted: 10 October, 2016

Sadhbh Byrne is a scholar in the School of Psychology and Children’s Research Centre at Trinity College Dublin. Her research explores the underlying factors associated with help-giving responses in the context of parental and peer support in youth mental health. She writes about her research to help #LoveIrishResearch mark World Mental Health Day.

Mental health has been defined as a state of wellbeing, in which the individual recognises their own abilities and is able to cope with normal daily stresses in life (World Health Organisation, 2005). Poor mental health is a worldwide issue of acute concern. In Ireland, the younger members of our population appear to be particularly affected by mental health difficulties. Indeed, the My World Survey, the largest study of youth mental health in Ireland to date, stated, ‘The number one health issue for young people is their mental health’ (Dooley & Fitzgerald, 2012, p. vii).

Approximately 20% of young people, globally and in Ireland, experience mental health difficulties in any given year. Depression is particularly concerning due to the link with suicide. In Ireland in 2015, 21% of deaths of people aged 15 to 44 years were attributed to suicide and intentional self-harm; Ireland has the fourth highest rate of youth suicide in Europe. Mental health and mental illness in Irish youth has been identified as a priority by the current government, with Minister for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee establishing a National Taskforce for Youth Mental Health.

World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the stated objective of ‘raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilising efforts in support of mental health’. The theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘psychological first aid’. Psychological or mental health first aid is the help given to someone developing a mental health problem or in a mental health crisis. The first aid is given until appropriate professional treatment is received or until the crisis resolves. This concept essentially formalises the informal support provided by members of an individual’s social network.

In my research, I investigate this informal support. In particular, I am exploring the factors that may influence how caregivers and peers respond to a young person displaying symptoms of depression. Research has consistently demonstrated that adolescents do not typically seek help for mental health difficulties, and that those adolescents who experience depression or suicidal ideation are particularly unlikely to reach out for support. Members of a young person’s social network, including parents and peers, may be able to provide help before it is sought by the young person themselves. Owens et al. (2011, p. 1-2) go so far as to state ‘Relatives, friends, and colleagues may be the only people to know that a person is distressed, and the burden of care lies entirely with them, until such time as the person decides, or is persuaded, to consult a doctor’.

The research literature is thus clear that parents and peers play an important role in the pathway towards young people’s mental health service engagement. However, knowledge of the support that parents and peers actually provide is comparatively scant. I hope that my research will help to close this gap in the literature, and in turn inform policy and practice that will improve outcomes for young people in distress.

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