Student Leader’s Congress 2015
On Wednesday 14th of January, the Cycle Against Suicide Student Leaders’ Congress took place in the RDS Dublin. The aim of the annual Congress is to encourage help-seeking behaviour in young people by promoting the message ‘It’s OK not to feel OK, and it’s absolutely OK to ask for help’. The Congress brought together young adults and teachers from all over Ireland who battled snowy road conditions to attend the event. They were all passionate about one main issue - breaking the cycle of suicide on our island of Ireland!
The Student Leaders’ Congress as its name suggests is very much a student-led event and a large portion of the day involves students: discussing projects they have engaged with, providing entertainment, conducting peer interviews and interacting with a range of mental health organisations exhibiting on the day.
I attended the Congress as a Student Leader Ambassador. I became an ambassador last year after undergoing a residential training Programme at Kippure Estate in Wicklow. I was selected for the programme following a selection process having been nominated by my school. In the course of this amazing, life -changing training programme, we had the opportunity of gaining many new skills such as social entrepreneurship skills, communication, teamwork and leadership skills. This leadership programme had a profound impact on me and I am committed to playing my part towards eliminating the stigma of mental illness in my school and community.
The theme of this year’s Congress was ‘Appreciate Your Mind’. This theme was chosen by myself and the 13 other fantastic Student Leader Ambassadors during our stay at Kippure. Over a 100 schools including St. Louis Community School, attended the Congress totaling an astounding 4000 people. Each school is aspiring to become a Cycle Against Suicide Ambassador school for 2015. The Ambassador School Programme aims to encourage schools to become actively involved in mental health promotion. The programme provides a framework, structure and incentive for schools to integrate mental health activities into the school plan, and rewards schools who go the extra mile.
Each school was asked to produce a project based on the Congress theme. This was a very enjoyable and interactive way to get students engaging and participating in the promotion of positive mental health. Some schools made a video or they created a poster campaign in their school community. Some others created an artefact or an inspiration wall.
St. Louis chose to create a video, ’10 ways to appreciate your mind’, and our ingenious video clip was played as part of the project showcase. It was truly amazing to witness the great impact the projects had on everyone.
Throughout the Congress there was an abundance of speakers, all of whom had their own unique story to tell. The congress began with an inspiring talk by Bressie, and then there was a Panel Discussion on Mental Health. The panel consisted of: Bressie, as the Chair, Alan Quinlan, Conor Cusack, Seamus Hennessey and Ellie Mc Namara. Each captivating discussion left each and every person in awe of how brave, courageous and willing the speakers were throughout their journeys and struggles.
The Congress was a huge success, and I’m delighted to be able to say that everyone took something home with them whether it was a Cycle Against Suicide Jersey, an inspiring story, a poster, or even a nice hot cup of coffee. As one of the student leader ambassadors working on the day it was without a doubt, a very busy day, but it was also one of my most, influential, spectacular, and inspiring experiences I have ever had.
After being involved in the Cycle Against Suicide campaign there has been a prodigious increase in the existing awareness of positive mental health in our school. By working together, shoulder to shoulder, we have been able to spread the significant message, ‘It’s Ok not to feel OK, and absolutely OK to ask for help’. We strive to continue our work in raising awareness of this prevalent issue, and we know we are helping to break the cycle of suicide on the island of Ireland!
- Caroline Leetch