The activists demanding better mental health care in the north of Ireland
Last Saturday, hundreds of people descended on Stormont to call for political action on the Northern Ireland's spiralling mental health crisis.
We're barely into the second month of the year and already Northern Ireland has been devastated by the deaths of several people, too many people, to suicide. Recent statistics found that five people in the North of Ireland take their own life every week, the highest rate in the UK.
Since the Good Friday Agreement brought and end to political conflict in the region in 1998, over 5,000 people have died by suicide in Northern Ireland, and the start of the new year saw headlines dominated by more lives lost. The crisis is hitting young people particularly hard, with 45,000 children and teenagers being diagnosed with a mental health issue. Yet in spite of the ubiquity of the problem, many organisers feel that not enough is being done to educate young people and encourage them to talk about and begin to tackle their problems.
Last Saturday, hundreds attended a rally to demand action on the issue. Marching to the recently opened site of local government, the 'Storm Stormont' event was a place for people to vent, to have their voices heard, to show support and solidarity in the face of a deepening public health emergency. Here are what just a few of those there had to say:
Kaitlyn Laverty, 18, Belfast, student and activist
What made you want to come out today? Substandard mental health support in NI. We have the highest suicide rate in the UK. It's disgraceful. Are our politicians doing enough to solve the mental health crisis? No. The NHS completely underfunded, especially with mental health services. What’s it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Grim. Unless you have a good family or group of mates it can be really difficult. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Trying to find housing, pay for education, and limit your exposure to negative influences via social media. What makes you hopeful for the future? Seeing people out today and people in general out protesting snd showing politicians we have a voice. If you could send a message to Stormont what would you say? Get your act together.
Sinead Hannaway, 21, Belfast, Social Work student
What made you come out today? It's an important issue and nothing is being done about it. Are politicians doing enough to address the crisis? No. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Tough for young people, little understanding and lots of stigma surrounding mental health. What makes you hopeful for the future? Seeing everyone out today. What makes you scared for the future? There's been a standstill for so long, I'm worried things won't improve. What message do you want to send direct to Stormont today? Listen.
Molly Perry, 16, Newtonards, student
Is enough being done to help Northern Ireland's mental health crisis? No, that's why I'm here. I want to support my family and those affected. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? It's difficult. I feel like our voices just aren't being heard. What are the biggest challenges facing this generation? Being taken seriously for our views and opinions. We are the future. What makes you hopeful? Small changes are eventually starting to happen, like politicians getting back to work. But, especially, as young people, it feels like everything is taken out of our hands. There's generally a lack of change and a lack of control. What message do you have for our politicians today? Change needs to happen now -- before its too late.
Jordan Nel, 21, Larne, cleaner
Is enough being done to address the mental health crisis? In a word, no. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Difficult. There's constant pressures on social media; everyone judging each other and this overwhelming negative atmosphere. There's a feeling of disconnection. What message do you have for politicians? Just because its invisible doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be fixed.
Jonathan Dugan, 20, Newtonards
What made you want to come out today and join the protest? I went to the GP last year for mental healthcare and I'm still waiting to receive anything. I'm glad to see the government working again, but it's been nothing, completely nothing for three years. What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? Confusing. I feel safe in society as an LGBT person and I have no fear of sectarianism, but I do believe suicide and the mental health crisis is a huge issue for young people.
Darren Adams, 27, Portadown, waiter and Emma Bramble, 22, Portadown, student
What's it like being young in Northern Ireland today? There's a lot of change right now, but more is needed. Its difficult; the older generation here don’t understand us. It feels incredibly frustrating being three years without government, and experiencing more suicides than we had during The Troubles. We're in the middle of an epidemic. What makes you scared for the future? The people in power here. They're just green or orange politicians, and they don't understand what's actually important. What message do you have for Stormont today? Wise the fuck up. You need to walk in our shoes, meet the real people going through this. Have you been affected by this? Has your families? If so, why aren't you doing anything about it?
Brandon Thompson, 16, Belfast
Why are you here today? I recently lost a member of my family to the mental health epidemic. Are politicians doing enough? No. Too many young lives have been lost, and I'm worried for my brothers and sisters growing up in this society. People are struggling and the help isn't there for them.
Photography Eilish McCormick.