The Healthy Towns initiative, which is currently piloting in Kilkenny, is now half way through its eight-week programme of events.
The Pfizer/Irish Times scheme has seen people attending various events, talks and athletic meetings over the past four weeks. During the first week, hundreds of locals underwent a health check, and they will be invited back at the end of the programme for a follow up assessment.
Pfizer’s director of communications Karen O’ Keefe says the programme had thus far been a success.
“We are coming up on the halfway point and so far it is going very well,” she told the Kilkenny People.
“We’ve been impressed with the response so far locally. It’s great to see people coming out and attending the various events.
“Groups are coming together on things, things like the Mayor’s Walk have shown a big increase in numbers since the Healthy Towns launched, and there was a lot of interest in the cookery demonstration with [local chef] Garrett Byrne.”
Ms O’ Keefe says that Kilkenny has proven a worthwhile location for the pilot programme.
“I think, in the early stages, one of the key reasons that Kilkenny was chosen as the pilot town was because the local authority was so enthusiastic about the initiative,” she said.
“They got behind it, they got all the local organisations together. And all the local organisations and stakeholders have been very supportive, it has been great.”
The centrepiece of the mental well-being week is a talk by psychologist Tony Bates on October 16. Dr Bates, a founding director of Headstrong – the National Centre for Youth Mental Health – has been a pioneer of ‘mindfulness’ – or ‘how you are in the moment’. He says this has a lot to do with ‘responding’ rather than ‘reacting’. Key to this is not falling into the trap of ‘avoidant coping’ – burying one’s head in the sand.
“I think the recession has taught us more about the kind of props and things we used to top up our self-esteem – the big house, the car etc,” says Dr Bates.
“It has given a wallop to so many people, that – when stripped of these props – you are laid bare. People are now cash-strapped and their nerves are rattled.
“There is a lot of depression and anxiety as a result. One of the things we can do is build up our self-esteem and self-belief.”
The recent ‘My World Survey’ compiled the views almost 14,500 young people, making it the first national and most comprehensive study of youth mental health for those aged 12-25 years in Ireland.
Nearly 10% of adolescents and 20% of young adults reported significant personal problems which they felt needed professional help but they did not seek it.
In terms of a Healthy Town, a sense of belonging is important.
“Kilkenny is a great place to belong,” says Headstrong’s Micheline Egan.
“There is a great sense of self-belief – just look at the hurling! People from Kilkenny are proud to be from Kilkenny.
“Community and connectivity absolutely impact on mental health. Belonging is crucial to identity. It is important to not surround yourself with people who are ‘energy drainers’, but instead with positive people, people who give you a laugh.”
Alcohol too has become part of this. Excessive drinking has negative consequence for mental health. For all young people, depression and anxiety were significantly higher when the person engaged in drinking or was classified as alcohol-dependent.
Dr Bates will address issues of mental health in his talk next week.
Meanwhile, Ms O’ Keefe of Pfizer has encouraged people to visit the Healthy Towns website to find out more information or get involved.
“On the microsite – www.irishtimes.com/healthytowns – the traffic level has been very strong,” she said.
“It’s still the place to go to find out about things, even for people who don’t wish to join a group or attend events – there is a lot of helpful information there.”