Can You Make a Difference?

Can You Make a Difference?

As a citizen of Ireland, you absolutely have the power to inspire change. Although it can seem that the Government or the business elite do not pay attention to the views of the general public, there is one thing they cannot ignore – your vote in an election.

Your vote allows you to have a voice, to send a message and it allows you to say what is important to you, your family and your community.

For me, there is nothing more important that the mental and physical well-being of our country. Unfortunately, our mental and physical well-being has been put on the back burner for too long while we continue to strive for economic growth.

Our personal lives, especially those of our young people, are more virtually connected and yet more isolated than ever. My vision as President is that the Ireland of 2025 will no longer be a nation that views mental health as a secretive issue to be discussed quietly, but rather a society that values the emotional and physical well-being of its citizens.

Mental health completely defines the way we experience and cope with life. Whether you are a child or an older person you need good mental health to live a peaceful and fulfilled life. From cradle to grave, at every stage of life, our mental health profoundly affects how we experience childhood, our jobs, our relationships, our families.

Did you know that:

  • In any given year in Ireland one in four people will experience a mental health problem.
  • More than 450,000 people nationally are estimated to be suffering from
    Depression.
  • We have increased the number of people on anti-depressants by over 65% in
    recent years, and in those under 18, the number of people on anti-
    depressants has increased by over 500%.
  • Over one third of beds allocated to youth mental health treatment are closed
    due to staff shortages.
  • We have nearly 7,000 young people waiting for an appointment with a HSE
    Psychologist.
  • Over 60% of people who are homeless have been diagnosed with mental
    Illness.
  • We spend €10m a year in this country on counselling but we spend forty
    times that, €400m per year, on medicating people with mental health issues.

Yes, many of these are issues for Government and Ministers to resolve – but the political debate needs to be shifted – that cannot be done via the partisan arena, it needs to come from the highest office in the land, an office that is by definition above politics: that is the Presidency.

I want to live in an Ireland that is seen as one of the best places to live, raise a family and grow old in. As President, I will combat the mental health crisis on three fronts that we used to make immense progress during my time with Pieta House.

These are:

  1. Highlight the strategy by providing experience & leadership
  2. Work with the organisations to encourage the sectoral response
  3. Mobilise people and communities to deliver it

What will be involved in actually making this happen?

I will host a Presidential Mental Health summit in the first six months of my Presidency, inviting the best and brightest experts to develop initiatives on how Ireland can be a world leader in building positive mental Health for our society.

I will bring every ounce of the influence of the Office of Presidency to the cause of organisations and the thousands of committed professionals working tirelessly in our communities who need our support.

I will use the Office to strengthen community fabric, so that each citizen feels that they belong and that they are supported in their community. As I saw with Darkness into Light, the power of people is the key to bringing real change.

I believe that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour.

No matter what role I have worked in throughout my career, I have always tried to improve the mental health and lives of as many people as possible. With my experience you can trust that I will use every fibre of my being to improve the lives of the people of Ireland rather than use the Presidency as a pedestal for my own career.

I am not a career politician nor am I supported by any political party.

I am not a businessman nor am I part of the old boys club.

I am a Mother, a Grandmother and a Wife.

I am a Psychologist.  

I am a Mental Health Activist and I am a concerned citizen who knows our country can do more for its people. These are not meaningless words or empty campaign promises.

My past actions reflect this absolutely.

I started Pieta House which now operates 15 mental health centres across the country and employs over 270 people. The most publicly visible expression of our work with Pieta House is our flagship annual walk – Darkness into Light – which started with only 400 people in 2008 but has grown to over 200,000 participants and has raised mass awareness of mental health problems in Ireland and has also resulted in millions of donations to provide mental health services across the country.

I was awarded Person of the Year in 2011 by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny for my commitment and dedication to self-harm and suicide prevention through the work of Pieta House. In 2016, I was appointed to Seanad Eireann where I have fought to bring about legislative change that will improve our current approach to mental health. In June 2017, I chaired the Government’s first Public Consultation Committee on Children’s Mental Healthcare in Ireland and authored the Public Consultation Committee Report in October 2017. I have introduced the Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016 which as of July 2018 has cleared all legislative stages in the Seanad. In January 2015, I brought the Pieta House model to New York and initially opened Pieta House New York which then became Solace House New York.

At a time when so many of our institutions: state, church and media command less
respect and are even tarnished, the public regard and trust in the Presidency is still
Strong. I know, understand and indeed respect the limitations on the President, but the office has great respect among the people and with that respect comes influence.

I want to inspire change in our society’s approach to Mental Health from Aras an Uachtarain, as your President of Ireland

But I can not do this without the backing of the people of Ireland.

Your vote will make a difference.

Your family’s vote will make a difference.

Your friend’s vote will make a difference.

The only questions is what type of difference do you want to make for our country?

Joan Freeman

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