- 08 Oct 19
One of the key changes that we’ve witnessed in Ireland over the past number of years is that people are beginning to openly acknowledge the importance of mental health. In the past, this had been treated as a shameful secret, the kind of thing nobody wanted to speak about. That culture of silence – of the less said the better – hasn’t been easy to shift. But it is happening.
That is the central purpose of the Now We’re Talking campaign. When Lyons Tea partnered with Pieta House, it was with the aim of contributing in a tangible way to eliminating the stigma that historically surrounded mental health issues in Ireland. The link-up makes a lot of sense. It is, after all, when people sit down over a cup of tea that otherwise difficult conversations become possible.
Hot Press is proud to join forces with Lyons Tea and Pieta House in what is a crucial campaign. The purpose is to create a context in which the old inhibitions that surrounded mental health in Ireland can be cast aside for once and for all. And the results of the Now We’re Talking campaign to date have been striking.
Conversations are now taking place all over Ireland that would previously have been unimaginable. Families are talking to one another and sharing their experiences, their thoughts and their feelings. Schools are beginning to appreciate what mental health means for young people. And, with an ever-widening conversation, come new opportunities for Pieta House to help. CEO Elaine Austin, who has been at the forefront of new initiatives in mental health, explains what the charity actually does.
“Pieta House is an Irish charity,” Elaine explains, “which provides therapeutic counselling sessions, free of charge and freely accessible, one-to-one with a therapist, for people who have been experiencing suicidal ideation, as well as for people who have been bereaved by suicide, or are engaging in self-harm.
“In terms of our bereavement services, we have two types. We have suicide liaison officers, who will go into the home environment straight after someone’s lost a loved one through suicide, to give them the support that they need; then we also have the bereavement support in the Pieta House centres around the country, which involves face-to-face therapy.”
In addition, Pieta House has intervention services for those who have suicidal ideation or are engaging in self-harm.
“That’s also a face-to-face therapy,” Elaine explains. “For intervention and self-harm, we do 12 sessions with a therapist. And for bereavement it can be up to 30 sessions.”
These services have proved hugely beneficial for people who are affected by suicide. Elaine speaks with genuine admiration when she talks about the first-class staff who work at Pieta House – and who work together to guide clients right from the first moment they call up and seek help.
Elaine stresses that Pieta House is constantly working towards new ideas for improving their services or adding beneficially to what they do. One of their new strands involves teaching young people about self-harm prevention.
“Our newest service is our Resilience Academy,” she says. “This is a six-week programme which is delivered to 2nd year students in post-primary schools. It’s an initiative to teach students positive mental health techniques and strategies. It is an evidence-based programme that was designed ‘with schools, for schools’ and aims to provide students with the skills and coping mechanisms that are needed to succeed, both in school, and throughout their adult lives. It’ll cover the things that students really want to talk about – including school stress, body image, friendship and bullying.”
Elaine notes that the rise and proliferation of social media has changed how young people interact with each other in recent years. How has it affected mental health?
“I think that, with all technology, there’s positives and negatives,” Elaine says. “The positive of social media is that people can be very connected. Ireland, at one point, could’ve been considered very isolated, so social media has brought people together. But I suppose the negative aspect is issues like cyber-bullying. A lot of students will say it quite simply – that it’s a lot easier to text someone something hurtful, than it is to say it face-to-face. So that has been exaggerated through the use of technology.”
As a mother of three daughters, Elaine stresses that social media has brought a lot of benefits to young people, but that it can also be all-consuming – and a major distraction.
“I think the main thing – and this hasn’t changed since the start of time – is that you want to educate your children, so that they can educate themselves,” she tells us. “That doesn’t change, whether it’s to do with technology, new schools, exams, new jobs, or whatever happens in family life. You want them to be as prepared and as strong as they can possibly be.”
NOW WE’RE TALKING
The ‘Now We’re Talking’ campaign, a collaboration between Lyons Tea, Pieta House and Hot Press, was a huge success last year. Part of its success lay in the simple, eminently practical message that, sometimes, just talking about how you’re feeling with someone else can have a massive, positive impact on mental health.
“That is so, so important,” Elaine stresses. “If you’re ever talking with someone who has gone through a period where they’ve really experienced suicidal ideation, it can be incredibly dark. But when you learn about someone’s experience and what they went through – the thing that they always say changed their perspective was talking. We know that being able to talk to someone unlocks something, psychologically or emotionally, in people.
“The Now We’re Talking campaign is amazing because it really focuses on that key thing, which will help people feel better. And the more that people talk, the greater the momentum that builds up behind it: it makes talking about mental health a natural thing. That really does help people feel better. It helps them get out of a state of hopelessness into hope.”
It’s not surprising that, in recent years, there has been an increased demand for Pieta House’s services. And, while Elaine notes that social and economic factors in Ireland have played a part in this – the recession had a big impact on many people’s sense of self-worth – she also sees it as being indicative of the fact that people are more willing to talk about how they’re feeling now.
“It’s hard to quantify,” Elaine nods, “but I definitely think that there’s more awareness around mental health, for a start. I think that awareness means that there’s been an increase in demand for the services. But does that mean that there’s a mental health crisis in Ireland? I’m not sure. I think what we’re doing now is we’re dealing with it differently – which is good. Instead of people feeling like they can’t talk about it, people are feeling like they can use the services. But, as always, there’s a lot of work to be done.”
In Pieta House, every detail counts. They are very conscious of how language is used, when describing mental health issues. They don’t skirt around difficult terminology. But they have consciously decided, for example, that the word ‘commit’ should not be used in relation to suicide. It might seem like a small thing. But it does matter.
“We’re still in an environment where people find it difficult to talk about suicide,” says Elaine. “When you talk to families that have been bereaved by suicide, you can see, very clearly, that they really do find it difficult. Now obviously suicide is a very difficult thing, but the stigma around it doesn’t help either. So it’s really important that people don’t attach stigma to those who say, ‘I’m feeling suicidal’.
“In relation to suicide, we don’t use the word commit, because commit has that association with things like committing a sin or a crime. Don’t forget that it wasn’t that long ago that suicide was still actually seen as a crime in Ireland, so it’s important that we don’t talk about suicide in the same way as we talk about committing a crime. That’s not appropriate. I do think that mindset is changing in Ireland, which is a really important step forward.”
One issue that individuals or families might face is: at what point do I need to contact Pieta House? They might think, ‘It’s not serious enough yet’. So, for people who are in doubt, when should a person step over the threshold?
“I would say if you don’t know – just come,” Elaine tells us. “The therapists in Pieta House really know what they’re doing, so don’t be afraid to come even if you think you’re not suicidal. If you’re feeling like there’s a dark cloud over you and you’re in that space where you feel a lack of hope, please come.
“Once you come to Pieta House, we do an assessment, which is an hour long, and which looks at the level of risk a person has. If we find that a person is fine but that they still need help, then they might not need to go through the full 12 sessions. We can always refer people to other organisations too.
“But I’ll be clear – the worst case scenario, in my mind, would be if someone thought, ‘Actually, I’m not going’ – and they didn’t take the opportunity. I can honestly say to anyone who isn’t sure, it’s worth coming in and just talking to a therapist. It’s totally client-led and very accessible.”
Pieta House’s partnership with Lyons Tea has been a hugely important part of getting the message about their work out to a wider audience. Over the last three years, the partnership with Lyons has delivered an increased awareness for the services of Pieta House from 71% to 80% of all adults.
How many people have been helped with the funds raised from the sales of Lyons limited edition packs supporting Pieta House?
“If you look at the cost to put someone through 12 sessions, you’re probably talking about €1,000 – give or take. And I think that, through the relationship, we’ve put through around 160-170 people through the sessions – so it is huge.
“We’re 80% funded by public fundraisers and by relationships such as Lyons Tea and other corporate partners. So the reality is that without businesses like Lyons Tea, we wouldn’t be opening our doors. At the moment we have over 220 clinical staff, operating across 15 centres and three outreach centres. So without that support, Pieta wouldn’t exist. I’m amazed every time I meet the people who fundraise for us. It’s always inspiring to see and hear the reasons why people do it.”
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
Despite the mental health challenges being faced by people in Ireland every day, Elaine is optimistic that we can tackle and overcome them in the future. The territory Pieta House works in is a difficult one. There is no getting away from that. But she remains optimistic.
“I have a lot of hope for Ireland, because Ireland has done amazing things in recent years,” she says. “If you think about the jumps we’ve taken in the last 30 years, it really puts things into perspective. Mental health is something that we need to continue working on. There is no question about that. We need to continue to reduce the stigma. And, although I think that we still have a road to go, I definitely think that this is happening.
“That’s why we’re really looking forward to the ‘Now We’re Talking – Live’ event in Smock Alley on October 10th, which is World Mental Health Day. The aim of the event is to further open up the conversation about mental health, in an intelligent and compassionate way – which represents such an important step forward. To hear people talking openly about their experiences truly is inspiring.”
Pieta House take-over packs of Lyons Original 80s will be in stores nationwide during September and October, raising awareness for the charity and encouraging people to talk about their mental health.
If you are suicidal, self-harming or bereaved by suicide, you can contact Pieta House free 24/7 Helpline number 1 800 247 247. Alternatively text Help to 51444 (standard message rates apply).
Now We're Talking 2019
A partnership between Lyons Tea, Pieta House & Hot Press.
Let’s break the stigma and take the dialogue about mental health issues onto a new level
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