Our young people are under more pressure than ever before, according to Michaela McDaid, Education and Training Co-ordinator with Aware Defeat Depression.
The support worker - who first became involved with the mental health charity when she herself was suffering from ill health - said a number of factors were to blame for the increase in mental health problems among young people, not least the increase in availability of drugs and alcohol.
“It is a fact that a lot of our young people, when they are feeling unwell, turn to alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism, and of course this causes problems in itself.”
Michaela, who delivers the Mood Matters programme to school children in years 10,11 and 13, said that in the last few years it has been hard to ignore the growing instances locally of depression.
“When we go into schools, when we talk to people, there isn’t anyone who hasn’t been touched by suicide in some way. It might not be directly but they know someone, or have felt it some way.”
To enable the young people to open up and talk about mental health issues, Michaela and Aware deliver a programme which engages school children during workshops.
“We try to let children know that all of us have mental health, just as we do physical health, and it is just as important to look after one as the other.”
Michaela says one of the biggest problems that still exists is that people generally don’t seek help for their mental health problems until they are really quite ill.
“Part of that is down to the stigma which still exists,” she said. “We have to convince people that depression is an illness - and not a sign of weakness of any sort. We have to try and get them to recognise the symptoms and in doing so take steps to make themselves better before they get very ill.”
Michaela explained: “There are steps people can take themselves to improve their mental health and it is important to be able to get that information out there.
“Aware provides a safe, non-judgemental environment for people who want to reach out.”