Ireland will have first mental wellbeing explorer image


My mental wellbeing exploits are an extension of my work with the Winning Minds Movement – a social initiative that provides educational solutions towards young peoples mental wellbeing.

My training company and educational partners, The Waverley Academy, currently fund all my efforts.

This report is an overview of my exploits for January 2018


The goals of my exploits are to highlight and share good practice towards mental wellbeing in Ireland. I also hope the work will inform, educate and provide positive insights of how the mind works.

On a personal level, I wanted to immerse myself in the area of mental health and broaden my knowledge of best practice towards mental wellbeing.

My goals are aligned with my mission for the Winning Minds Movement to provide educational solutions towards young peoples mental wellbeing


For several years I have been conscious of the negative publicity that mental health and the mind were receiving. Young people are bombarded with messages from media and social media, creating negative connotations that ‘mental’ and ‘mind’ are problems.

I was also conscious of the negative impact this publicity was having on young people, and how it was creating a sense of hopelessness and apathy towards their mental health. So in order to provide some hope, I felt the positive aspects of the mind and mental health should be highlighted.

My own personal experience was also a motivator. I learned that mental health could be transformed when you have access to professionals and quality education.


I’ve used a bottom up approach working from grassroots level. My comments and findings are based on observations, visits, emails, phone calls, desktop research and face-to-face conversations with principals/vice principles, parents, teachers, experts in the field of child/teen development, and of course young people themselves.

For purposes of structure I have tried to categorise my exploits, but with the enormity of positive activity in the mental wellbeing area, there is some overlap within the categories.


I must start by saying the amount of good practice towards developing mental wellbeing in Ireland is incredible – and the year I set aside for exploring will only scratch the surface. But that’s encouraging.

My comments below are based on personal interactions I had with those mentioned – but I do except that a short report like this will not do justice to the many not mentioned within.

Young People

I start with young people because they’ve inspired me the most.

Young people are hungry for education towards achieving and coping in life – including positive mental health.

They are incredibly adept at learning, and equally good at innovating. They are more aware and capable than we give them credit for and their message seems to be this: “Show me the way forward and I will do the rest”.

It seems our young people want good leadership (at home, in school and in the community) and not micro managing or handholding. This area of my research has probably been the most inspiring and I’ve not yet scratched the surface.

The future of positive mental health is our children and young people – but we must show leadership from when they are born.

If you don’t believe me – this a quote from a Royal College of Surgeons report:

“By the age of thirteen, 1 in 3 young people are likely to have experienced a mental health disorder”.


There is a multitude of programmes in schools that enhance or develop mental wellbeing. The future also looks bright – with a new generation of teachers, principals and vice principals – who are passionate about wellbeing for their students.

Teachers are also making inroads into a more holistic experience for their students – and they must be commended for this. They are innovating, devising extra curricular activates, and working beyond the call of duty…despite restrictions from policy and curriculum. New programmes and developments in schools include

  • The new wellbeing curriculum for junior cert
  • PE becoming a leaving cert subject
  • Short courses in philosophy for junior cert (selected schools)
  • Safe internet education
  • Renewed emphasis on “Key Skills”
  • CFES (College For Every Student- American programme available for DEIS schools)

There are also external providers of wellbeing programmes which have been adapted in schools. Two of the more notable are Buddy Bench and Weaving Wellbeing.

Another one of note, which is aimed at parents, educators and local community activists, is Be Well Do Well.


This is another group of people who perform under great pressure and in many cases beyond the call of duty.

If you don’t believe me, look up the work of people like: Dr Malie Coyne, Dr Ciara Kelly (broadcaster), Professor Jim Lucey (author), Dr Harry Barry (author), Dr Eddie Murphy (author), Dr Sabina Brennan (expert in brain health), Aisling L-Curtain (author), Niamh Fitzpatrick (psychologist), Anne McCormick (author)

If you take anything from this article I strongly recommend you listen to what they are saying. Their pursuit of excellence and evidence based solutions inform all else. Their advice is gold dust, and its free online. Many of them also write books. Without their expertise and dedication, much of what we do would be aimless.


Advocates are creating powerful messages. Some are writing, others are speaking – some publish books, and others do all three. They also have podcasts and appear on TV.

But there’s something else that makes their messages resonate – many of them are speaking from personal experiences. Yes, they talk the talk, but they also walk the walk. I’ve a lot more to explore in this category but I recommend you listen to, or read the messages from people like:

Dr. Ciara Kelly (broadcaster/advocate), Niki Hayes (author/speaker), Fiona Kennedy (aka Sunny Spells & Scattered Showers – blogger/advocate), Nial Breslin (aka Bressie, author/speaker), Alison Canavan (author/speaker), Emma Murphy Fitness (advocate/speaker) Vogue Williams (author/speaker), Alan O’Mara (author/speaker), Pat Divilly (author/speaker), Jack Kavanagh (advocate & motivational speaker)  Blind Boy – (Rubber Bandits – author/speaker) Norah Casey (author/speaker) 

Social Media

Social media has come in for a lot of criticism lately – and rightly so. However – used in an educational context – it can be a very powerful tool. To this end, it can be used to connect with like-minded people (such as those mentioned above) and follow those who are providing sensible and evidence based advice that contributes to mental wellbeing.

The arts

This is the area closest to my heart, and the one I believe will make biggest impact outside of the medical model. It includes all things creative such as; music, drama, art, comedy, illustration, poetry, drawing, writing, story, sculpting dancing, performing and singing.

It offers great scope for innovating, especially when underpinned by evidence from the fields of psychology, psychiatry, medicine and science.

The best initiative I have come across in this category is First Fortnight – Irelands Mental Health Arts Festival. First Fortnight runs during the month of January with an astonishing array of events. It deserves an article by itself and I will do this when I catch up with the founders. (JP Swaine and David Keegan)

There are also multiple activities and persons using the arts to nurture and develop mental wellbeing, and I will also cover them in separate articles.

I have also been innovating through the arts with some great people, and have piloted programmes with schools, sports groups, youth organisations and parents. The feedback has been inspiring and I look forward to sharing the ideas in the not to distant future.


This area excites me no end. The ability to innovate towards mental wellbeing is incredibly motivating.

When you use evidence based psychiatry and psychology as your foundation, and combine them with disciplines such as arts, music, tech, education, engineering, academia, sport and science – the outcomes can be transformative.

Four of my role models in this area are Colin Keogh, David Pollard, Sabina Brennan and Karl Thomas.

Colin Keogh has engineering background and an innovators heart. Colin’s Ted talk made me realise how much of my work in education and psychology over the past twenty years is ‘applied innovation’. He has made me think of my work from a different angle. Colin also lectures in UCD and is founder of the Rapid Foundation

David Pollard is innovation manager at Rehab Ireland. He’s also co-founder of the ‘Learning Tech Labs’ meetup – a group of people who’ve had a profound impact on my learning. David introduced me to the concept of exploring and collaborative learning. And I haven’t stop learning since.

Dr Sabina Brennan is an expert in Brain health. She is a research assistant professor at the School of Psychology in Trinity College Dublin. Sabina coridinated a European research project on brain health which produced a series of short films, a website and an app ( (

Dr Karl Thomas is CEO of Creatovation, and one of Irelands foremost experts in creative, critical & innovative thinking. Karl has a big interest in mental health and looking at how we can apply creative thinking to address some of the challenges in modern day society


There is a multitude of organizations committed directly or indirectly to mental wellbeing. They include charities, not for profits, social enterprises, youth groups and government agencies.

Many are enhancing mental health by helping clients recover from mental distress through services, education, training, and support.

I hope to cover the great work of these organisations throughout the year.


There are several events throughout the year, which can directly or indirectly contribute to mental wellbeing. Some have become annual events with great followings such as THE Mental Health & Wellbeing Summit, the BEO festivals, Fresh Resolutions – Zeminar – Sports Mind – and Mind Over Matter (Emma Murphy Fitness),

But the outstanding one in this category is the Cycle Against Suicide student convention. It beings together schools from around the country and has become the largest mental health youth event in Europe.

These events are definitely worth checking out and are making a big contribution to mental wellbeing in Ireland


I believe this is another area with massive potential to cultivate and develop mental wellbeing. It’s an area virtually untapped, although the GAA, IRFU, and FAI, are making inroads.

I have had the good fortune of piloting ‘sporting solutions’ towards mental wellbeing with the FAI, schools and youth organisations. Early indicators were encouraging and feedback was good. But integrating mental wellbeing education into the current sports systems will need leadership from the top.


I am more hopeful than ever after my first month exploring – that our schools, teachers, young people, and arts- will have a massive impact on the future of positive mental wellbeing in Ireland.

And finally, thanks to the many who have acknowledged and supported my efforts. My exploits would not be possible without you


My work will continue throughout 2018 so if there is any good practice in mental wellbeing you would like to bring to my attention or share with me, you can email me at

Or connect at