16 Aug 2022

We all need a flight pan to stay well mentally - Dr Fergus Heffernan

One of the largest crowds to attend a meeting in St. Canice’s Neighbourhood Hall on the Butts Green in 40 years turned up last week to hear how to improve their own mental health and manage stress in their lives.

One of the largest crowds to attend a meeting in St. Canice’s Neighbourhood Hall on the Butts Green in 40 years turned up last week to hear how to improve their own mental health and manage stress in their lives.

Speakers from Grow, Aware, Shine, Lifeline and the Samaritans joined special guest speaker, Dr Fergus Heffernan, at the Fr. McGrath Family Resource Centre organised conference to hear how modern living has turned us into a nation with a growing dependence on pharmaceuticals to help us cope.

An audience of 200 people heard Dr. Heffernan say that 23 million prescriptions were issued to Irish people last year but a more balanced approach to minding our own mental health would go a long way to greatly improving the physical well being of many of us.

Stress levels are now at least three times greater for all individuals than they were only two or three generations ago and the link between stress and physical illness were well proven but not fully understood by the population as a whole.

Those attending were told that easy fixes for people like drugs and alcohol, ultimately aggravate and do not counter stress and people needed to develop better coping mechanisms and understanding of their own mental well being if we are to lessen our national dependency on pharmaceuticals.

Ending Stigma around mental health

Many of the speakers referred to the stigma still associated with mental illnesses in Irish society and the need to start a national dialogue on the issue was vital if we are to tackle the rise in suicides amongst young people, especially young men and male travellers –two of the most likely groups to take their own lives in Ireland.

Speaker Martin Mathews who works with Shine in Kilkenny to support people with mental illness said we too often dismiss how we really feel for fear of being seen as selfish. He stressed the importance of being selfish about out mental health and turning our national greeting ‘How are you?’ into a personal and national question we need to be asking of ourselves constantly.

Speaker after speaker emphasised the importance of having someone to talk to and share a problem with as sharing problems often helped greatly to get perspective on these problems and alleviate stress in our daily lives.

We all need a flight plan

The keynote address was given by Dr Fergus Heffernan and he explained that the moment you are born in to this planet three very significant events happened within the very first 30 seconds.

“Having spent nine months swimming around in an amniotic sack of fluid in you mothers womb where every need was nurtured and taken care of you arrived into the planet, somebody cut the cord and everything changed.

“The first thing you did was you took your first breath which gave you life, you then experienced your first loss (the loss of all your needs being met automatically), and then you suffered your first bout of anxiety, and you cried. From that very first moment you learned that if you feel needy and anxious (and you cant name them) that if you go to a behaviour (baby cried) someone might come and meet that need.

“In many ways that is the cornerstone of many of our lives, having needs, not being able to name them (because family and society would not allow it) and then learning to go to behaviours to try and get those needs met. Isn’t it ironic that in our 14 years of education from primary school to secondary school we never learn about loss, breathing, or anxiety (and our lack of understanding them are the corner stone of every difficulty we experience in our physical and psychological well being.)

“Most of us go through our life with what I call the prescribed script. The script that was handed to us by our parents and society. The good news however, is, that the script can be re wrote at any time . If you really want to be well in your life learn the art of self honesty. The ability to be honest with ourselves is the antidote for wellness. Most of us unfortunately spend our life in denial ! “What’s wrong with you ? “ “nothing”. “How are you ? “ “ Fine “ (See what I mean) .

Most of us are lost in life because we do not have a flight plan, a sense of destination. When a pilot leaves Dublin Airport he always gets to his destination because he has a flight plan. The flight plan always for emergencies on route, for unexpected happenings on route, but whatever happens he can always come back to the flight plan, and 99% of the time he always arrives at his destination safely. We to should have a Flight Plan. Have a plan for each day. Write it down , commit to it. Your plan for each day should include : A time to work, a time to play, a time to pray (or meditate), a time to exercise, a time to talk, a time to breathe. We really need to do this because we are all on autopilot and without a plan we have become lost and subsequently we are the sickest generation ( both physically and psychologically ) of the last 4 Generations. Understand Anxiety and learn to breathe and you will always be well,” he counselled.

Kilkenny Support Services

The central message of the conference to all Kilkenny people is do not be afraid to reach out and talk to people who can help. You are not alone. Kilkenny is fortunate in having many support groups and voluntary and other counselling services for people finding it difficult to cope.

Some of those listed at the conference included

• Talk in Through – Counselling Services and support groups provided in the Fr McGrath FRC

• Aware - a long established support group for people affected by depression, a local group runs every Thursday from 7.30 to 8.30pm in Fr. McGrath Centre. (

• GROW - Who run a free six week programme aiming at recovery from mental health issues. They also run groups in Kilkenny, Carlow and Callan. ( )

• Shine – is a support organisation for people experiencing mental health difficulties. (

• Lifeline – part of a local response to suicide in Kilkenny city and county. They run a variety of programmes and training and are currently developing a plan for suicide prevention in Kilkenny county. (

• Samaritans – free helpline available 24/7, they also meet face to face callers in their Dean Street office in Kilkenny. Their counsellors provide emotional support to all visitors in full confidence. (

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