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Special Olympics Ireland & Mental Health Ireland launch Stronger Minds, Happier Lives

By 27th January 2023No Comments

‘Stronger Minds, Happier Lives,’ Ireland’s first mental health promotion programme for people with intellectual disabilities was launched this week at the Sport Ireland Campus by Special Olympics Ireland and Mental Health Ireland.

The programme is co-facilitated by Special Olympics’ Health Messengers, athletes who have been trained as health and wellness leaders, who advocate for and promote wellbeing to their peers within their Special Olympics clubs and the wider community.

The programme will support Special Olympics athletes to grow their understanding of mental health, help them to manage stress and express feelings, develop skills to cope with challenging emotions and tough conversations and learn about the mental health support services available.

The programme will now be delivered to Team Ireland athletes who will represent the nation in the 2023 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Berlin, Germany this June 17th to 26th.

The five-module programme was developed and coproduced with Special Olympics Health Messengers, Staff, Volunteers and Mental Health Ireland to support athletes to protect and strengthen their mental health and wellbeing.

The evaluation of the pilot programme was co-designed by the Health Messengers with the support of Dr Fintan Sheerin, an Associate Professor in Intellectual Disability Nursing, and Head of School in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in Trinity College Dublin. Dr Sheerin is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Intellectual Disabilities

Hayley Kavanagh, Health & Wellbeing Co-ordinator with Special Olympics Ireland said, “The Stronger Minds, Happier Lives programme is a fantastic initiative that was designed by athletes for athletes. With the support and guidance from staff at Mental Health Ireland we were able to design for the first time a novel mental health promotion programme that helps people with intellectual disabilities to protect and strengthen their mental health and wellbeing. This programme and partnership with Mental Health Ireland will have a lasting impact on the lives of athletes and goes a long way towards achieving our mission of inclusive health. Inclusive health means people with intellectual disabilities are able to take full advantage of the same health programs and services available to people who do not have an intellectual disability. Thank you to Mental Health Ireland for providing this opportunity for Special Olympics Ireland athletes.”

Deirdre Nevin, Health Messenger with Special Olympics Ireland said, “Stronger Minds, Happier Lives will help athletes to help each other. That’s why I became a Health Messenger, and it’s great that mental health is being supported because looking after your thoughts and feelings is just as important as looking after your body.”

Sonia Rennicks, Head of Education, Training & e-Mental Health with Mental Health Ireland, “One of the unique strengths of this programme is that it was coproduced by the Health Messengers for their peers. Their lived experience of the challenges they experience to their mental health, as athletes, as people with an intellectual disability, and as active members of their communities, became the starting point for the programme. The creative and progressive tools they developed to protect mental health rounds the programme out with hope and empowerment.”

Pictured is: Hayley Kavanagh (Health and Wellbeing Co Ordinator), Deirdre Nevin, Jonathan Deering, Sonia Rennicks, (Head of Education, Training & e-mental health) and Una Coates.