Most people would know me as the founder of Pieta House, the suicide and self-harm charity. It’s hard to believe that, as recent as 2006, people in crisis had nowhere to go. In the 12 years since founding Pieta House, it has grown from one centre in Lucan to 15 centres nationwide and now employs more than 280 people.
In 2016 I was appointed to Seanad Eireann where I was instrumental in forming the first ever Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care, of which I am Chair. In 2017, I chaired the Government’s first Public Consultation Committee on Children’s Mental Health Care in Ireland. Just two months ago, my Mental Health (Amendment) Bill 2016, which prohibits the admission of children into adult psychiatric units, cleared all stages in the Seanad.
I’m a qualified psychologist and have spent my life and my livelihood campaigning for the mental well-being of people in all stages of their lives.
The most visible and powerful expression of the work that I do is Darkness into Light, an annual walk to show solidarity with those who have been affected by suicide. We started this in 2008 with only 400 people gathering in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. On May 12th of this year, 200,000 people walked in 150 locations in Ireland and across the world and together we raised over €3 million.
I was born in Clontarf, Co. Dublin, as one of eight children. My father was a publican and my mother looked after all of us. I live in Lucan with my husband Pat who is a postmaster in Bluebell, Co. Dublin. I have a son and three daughters and I have four grandchildren.
Mental health affects how we work, rest and play. The way Joan can make a difference is by using the highest office in this country to elevate the importance of mental health in schools, homes, workplaces and the community. When we prioritise mental health we see the success not just in each other but in our community.