The journey so far...

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When Headstrong began its journey four years ago, disturbing reports of self-harm, suicide and high-risk behaviour from across this country indicated that many young people and their families were experiencing levels of distress that they did not know how to handle. Suicide was the leading cause of death in young people, and one in four young people were identified as going through difficult times. The mental health supports these young people desperately needed were rarely available, and the few services available to them were hard to access and seldom youth friendly.

Headstrong was set up in response to this need – to change the way Ireland thinks about youth mental health, so that young people are connected to their community and have the resilience to face challenges to their mental health.

We listened to young people, we asked them what they needed, and what we had to change. They became an integral part of the organisation from the outset, helping us to advocate for change, and influence those that could help us to transform the system. We looked at policy and best practice both nationally and internationally, and we engaged world pioneers in youth mental health to guide our thinking. As a result, we devised robust research and evaluation programmes so that we could better understand the inner world of young people in Ireland today and to ensure our thinking was relevant.

It quickly became clear very that a new approach was required that would make the very best interventions and programmes available to young people in an easily accessible way. These appropriate supports needed to help young people to deal with the challenges they were facing, so that they could grow through these experiences rather than lose their way.

We developed Jigsaw in response to this need - an innovative approach that involves the whole community working together to give young people somewhere to turn to and someone to talk to in difficult times.

Every community is unique, therefore Jigsaw is different in each community. We have established five very different demonstration sites as models for a national programme. Jigsaw is now up and running in Co. Galway, Co. Kerry and Ballymun in Dublin, and in the coming year it will be launched also in Counties Meath and Roscommon. We have a further nine communities engaged in our community readiness programme, and this year started to roll out a comprehensive programme of community training and education.

Though it is very early days, Jigsaw is becoming highly regarded within the communities, and young people are responding positively to the change.

As a result, we are engaging with Government and the nation to ensure the continuation of Headstrong’s work, and to raise hope and awareness that there is something we can do for young people to respond to their mental health needs. We want to ensure that Jigsaw can be made available in every county in Ireland, and we now need the support of the Irish public to ensure that every young person in Ireland will have somewhere to turn to, and someone to talk to by 2016.

Tony Bates