AS a clinical psychologist, Dr Deidre O’Donnell, new president of the Ennis and District Soroptimists, knows all too well the importance of positive mental health. So it is not surprising she is a passionate advocate for Soroptimist Ireland’s newest national project, titled You are Not Alone.
The Soroptimists have adopted positive mental health and suicide prevention as their two-year national project, working together with the HSE and Mental Health Ireland to create better awareness and understanding of mental health.
Dr O’Donnell, who has taken the chain of office for her second time, explained this message is of particular significance to her. “I’ve been involved in the mental health area myself for the past 33 years as a clinical psychologist. And I’ve grown up around this. I was raised in Our Lady’s hospital, my father Dr Pat Power, was the chief psychiatrist there so we were one of the few families that were resident there. It’s very important for me to be able to promote positive mental health and to destigmatise issues like depression and anxiety. Just to get it out there, more in the public face, so people will talk. I want people who are in distress to not be afraid to venture forth, it can take a lot of courage to take that first step but there is help there.”
Among the initiatives planned by the organisation will be the promotion in highly visible places of contact numbers for services available to those in distress. Dr O’Donnell is hopeful that by highlighting the services available a difference can be made.
Soroptimists will be making contact with taxi ranks, publicans, sporting bodies, schools and other groups in a bid to get the word out that there is help out there for those who need it.
Dr O’Donnell explained, “Soroptimists is an international organisation of about 90,000 women, we are a voluntary group whose main aim is to promote community-based and international projects to improve the lives and status of women and girls through education, empowerment and enabling opportunities.
“Ireland has 20 clubs and every couple of years, a club takes the lead on a national project with the other clubs coming on board. The previous project was organised by the Ennis and District Soroptimists and that went really well, while this is being organised through the Mullingar Soroptimists. What this project is essentially about is promoting positive mental health and suicide prevention in Ireland. The idea is to promote, in particular, contact numbers and useful services that are available for people in distress in our community.
“The Mullingar club has been very proactive, designing a poster and cards with the message You are Not Alone. On the back are all the relevant contact numbers and addresses, you can just pick up the card and have it in our pocket or wallet. Along with that, we are preparing larger posters and information sheets with the numbers, so for instance they can be stuck up on doors such as on the back of a toilet door where people can see them. We want to have this information available in very public areas, so from that point of view, we are accessing sports clubs, taxi ranks, schools, we are looking to make contact with publicans, sporting venues. We are trying to get as many people as possible involved in this whole area.
“We want to distribute as many contact numbers as possible, particularly to young people. However, this isn’t just about supporting young people in distress. This is for everyone. All kinds of people are being hit at some form or another with some form of stress. We have maybe an older age group being hit with financial stresses and relationship issues. This is something that can affect anybody.”
Other events by the Ennis and District Soroptimists include a coffee morning next Wednesday, World Mental Health day, in the Old Ground Hotel to raise awareness on the issue. There are also a number of public talks planned for the coming months. The first event will take place on October 24 when Dr Julie Hurley, consultant psychiatrist from Limerick will be speaking about promoting positive mental health.
The organisation is urging that on World Mental Health Day, and all that week, people should take a minute to think about their mental health. The Soroptimists are also encouraging people to get involved in free courses provided by the HSE and Mental Health Ireland. SafeTALK is a two-and-a-half hour course that prepares participants to identify persons with thoughts of suicide and connect them to suicide first-aid resources. The ASIST course is a more comprehensive two-day skills building workshop in suicide first aid.
Dr O’Donnell’s connection with the Ennis and District Soroptimists goes back to her childhood, with her mother, Maura Power a founding member of the organisation. “I was only a small child when it started and I was often out fundraising. She was the first national president from Ennis. I was president in 1990 and this is my second term in office, so both my and mother’s names are on the chain,” she said.
“As well as this project, the Soroptomists are involved in other issues, such as Turning Off The Red Light of Prostitution, looking at domestic abuse and violence against women. And we also promote public speaking among girls in school, helping them become more involved in their local communities and to get them to take an avid interest in topical issues.
“Because of my background I am interested in both the Soroptimists and the promotion of positive mental health. It really, really saddens me that there is so much help there for people to access but people are afraid to. There are more than enough professionals, counsellors and therapists, willing to sit with people and help them. But it’s up to those in distress to take the first step and come forward and look for that help. It’s a brave step to pick up the phone. But I would urge people to just do it and hopefully, these new contact cards can make a difference,” she concluded.