Northern Ireland news

Pupils march for mental health awareness

Anna McAlorum and pupils from St Genevieve's in west Belfast walk out for positive mental health and wellbeing. Picture by Hugh Russell

MORE than 1,000 pupils and staff have staged a march to launch a week-long focus on positive mental health and wellbeing.

St Genevieve's High School in west Belfast will this week host speakers, workshops and assemblies ahead of World Mental Health Day on October 10.

Yesterday, young people wearing green ribbons - the international symbol for mental health awareness - joined their teachers in a walk.

Those taking part were given pocket-sized green cards containing phone numbers for organisations including Dawg Suicide Prevention and Action Mental Health.

Pupils were addressed by Year 14 Anna McAlorum, deputy head girl with responsibility for promotion of a mental health strategy.

She said when researching the issue, she was horrified to learn that people from Northern Ireland had a 25 per cent higher chance of developing mental health illnesses than the rest of the UK.

"Mental health problems can come into our life through a number of different forms ranging from stress, anxiety and loneliness to eating disorders, grief and substance abuse," she said.

"The spectrum is endless. Talking about mental health doesn't have to be difficult. It is okay not to be okay, and it is more than okay to speak up about it.

"It is essential that we promote resilience and wellbeing for the sake of our young people and for the future of our community, ensuring that we are mentally capable to handle the adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and stress that may come into our lives."

Young people were encouraged to support mental health and suicide prevention charities. Several are already taking part in weekly s top suicide protests organised by the Dawg charity.

"If you know someone you suspect may be struggling, talk to them. Ask them how they are and let them know you're there," pupils were urged.

"Don't worry about what to say or how to understand their situation. You don't need to understand, you just need to be there.

"If you yourself are struggling, I urge you to talk, speak up, and don't feel ashamed. As lonely as you may feel in this situation you are certainly not alone. Take advantage of our pastoral care system within the school, as they are here to care for you and to guide you through any problems you may be going through no matter how big or small."

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