Our 'narrow' view of mental health

We also have a skewed perception of when we need help as there is so much focus on crisis prevention, says Naoise Kavanagh, head of digital and communications at ReachOut Ireland

5th October, 2017
Naoise Kavanagh, Head of Digital and Communications at ReachOut Ireland

What's your name?

Naoise Kavanagh

What position do you hold?

Head of Digital and Communications at ReachOut Ireland

What are your day-to-day responsibilities?

I manage ReachOut.com and ReachOutParents.com. ReachOut.com is aimed at young people aged 12–25 to help them get through tough times and ReachOutParents.com provides support and advice for parents of young people in that same age-range. This entails content development and digital marketing - managing all channels including SEO, SEM, social media and email marketing.

The external relationships we have are crucial to our work, so I work closely with a number of mental health service providers, people working in the secondary and third level education sectors, and tech companies to help shape our services.

We’re a small team, so each of us would work in the outreach element of the organisation. As part of this, I conduct talks, presentations and workshops to schools, colleges, companies, parent and community groups.

A big part of my day at the moment is planning for the annual Technology for Wellbeing Conference, which we have been hosting for the last four years. This year we are working together with Mental Health Reform, the sole Irish partner in a six-country European Union project funded by the Interreg North West Europe.

What is your professional background?

A bit of a mix really. I have worked in not-for-profits for some time, in different sectors. I studied social policy, journalism, digital marketing and am now studying cyberpsychology.

Tell me about yourself away from work?

I spend a lot of time in front of screens throughout the day, and as much as I am an advocate of technology, when I’m really away from work I like to be outdoors as much as possible -walking in nature, or around the city, in all weathers. Cycling too, but I'm a solely fair-weather cyclist. I love eating out, going to pubs, gigs or the theatre, just being out and about and having good chats.

Tell us something very few people know about you?

I have never seen any of the Godfather movies. When people discover that, they are generally horrified.

You are speaking at the 2017 Mental Health Summit. What are you speaking about?

The panel I am on will be talking about whether the future is digital for mental health service provision or not. While so much of our lives are becoming increasingly enhanced, enabled or hindered by digital, depending on your viewpoint, it is only natural that we use more digital tools to manage our mental health.

There is also the question of the scale that digital affords mental health service provision. With increasing reports of anxiety and other issues, we really need to start investing in technology to meet the mental health need.

What major challenges do you see for mental health services in Ireland?

There is currently a fairly narrow view of mental health and as a result people of all ages are being funnelled through a system with large waiting lists for services that are not necessarily appropriate to their needs.

We also have a skewed perception of when we need help as there is so much focus on crisis prevention. It is, of course, understandable that we have this focus, but in the absence of anything else, people are continually getting a message that you have to be at crisis point to seek or deserve help.

Throwing more money at the mental health budget for more of the same isn’t necessarily the answer either. It’s about being smart with that money and tailoring services to fit the different needs based on where people are at, what they’re experiencing and who they are.

Where would you like to see our mental health service in 10 years time?

We need to broaden our view and approach to mental health and actually invest in different types of services. Although there is greater awareness about mental health problems and help-seeking, people seem to be communicating greater levels of distress than ever.

It would a huge step forward if we supported teachers and colleges more in dealing with the mental health needs of students which are increasingly at alarming levels so that we are addressing issues early on.

I would like to see more research and development in technology and mental health service provision and more collaboration in the mental health sector to explore alternative sources of mental health support.

Naoise Kavanagh is appearing at The 2nd National Mental Health Summit. The agenda and further details for this important national event, at the AVIVA Stadium on November 9th, is available at Mentalhealthsummit.ie.

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