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Connacht Tribune

Highlighting the power of peer support in mental illness recovery

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Peer support can play a crucial part in recovery from mental illness – that’s according to a Galway native who is one of the country’s most respected voices in this field.

Trinity College Professor in Mental Health, Agnes Higgins, reported her findings after carrying out in-depth interviews with 26 people who went through just such a peer support programme with mental health charity GROW.

Those interviewed had

mental health difficulties including bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression.

The research – carried out with Dr Mike Watts – shows that, although medical treatment and mental health professionals can be a vital start to recovery, mental health problems can also be resolved through peer and community support as well as everyday social interactions.

The study showed that while peer support has long been valued in recovery from various addictions it remains an under used strategy within a mental health system that is currently under serious resource pressures.

The research findings and stories have been published as a book entitled Narratives of Recovery from Mental Illness.

Research in mental health has been something Agnes has been involved in for a number of years.

She met her co-author Mike Watts, when he was national coordinator for GROW and he was interested in doing a PhD.

“Given my interest and passion for mental health and the absence of research evidence in the area peer support, we decided that the focus of the PhD should be in this area,” she explained.

And because of the importance of the subject matter, the pair then decided to craft their findings into a book.

Participants in the study described how life experiences such as bullying, abuse, bereavement, isolation or family disharmony led to a slow build-up of distress leading to emotional chaos.

Agnes explains that without someone to listen to and deal with the resultant trauma ‘powerful emotions of terror, rage and despair impacted on each person’s thinking and behaviour’ so they began to mistrust life and became trapped in a spiral of personal isolation and what was termed ‘dialogues of terror’.

The non-hierarchical culture of a peer support group within GROW resulted in people immersing in ‘dialogues of healing’.

“They found themselves developing trust, becoming hopeful, experiencing a sense of personal value and belonging, and the nurturing of the beginnings of personal empowerment,” she said.

She sees the book as offering an alternative way of looking at mental illness and demonstrates many unexplored avenues and paths to recovery that need to be considered.

“The narratives of recovery should also be a source of hope to people struggling with ‘mental illness’ and emotional distress,” she said.

Part of the challenge in transforming mental health services is the lack of evidence-based studies focussing on the process and outcomes of peer support services.

“We hope that it will encourage practitioners to include peer support within the menu of recovery options offered to people with a mental health problem”, Agnes declares.

Agnes Higgins grew up on a farm in Kilmurry, Dunmore, the middle child of seven. She went to national school in Ballinlass and finished secondary school in 1978. Her father, Mick, passed away in 1986 and her mother, Mary, still lives in Kilmurry.

Agnes wanted to be a teacher but she explains that “in those days you applied for lots of things” and she was accepted for the first student nurse position she applied for.

“The people who interviewed me were so welcoming, warm, and kind that I didn’t hesitate for a minute in my decision”, says Agnes. Her nurse training began in 1978 at St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin and she qualified as a mental health nurse in 1981.

Later, Agnes trained as a general nurse and qualified in 1986. From 1990 – 1993 she trained and qualified as a nurse teacher and then went on to do a masters in Dublin City University and a PhD in Trinity College.

In 2000 Agnes was offered a position in the School of Nursing and Midwifery in TCD. Her first role was to develop a postgraduate diploma in clinical health sciences education, “this programme was to educate nurse and midwifery teachers,” she explained.

This work led to Agnes receiving the Provost Award for Teaching Excellence within the college; now, as Professor in Mental Health, she lectures on the subject to Trinity undergraduate and postgraduate students.

Connacht Tribune

SMEs set their sights on Euro expansion

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Kevin Moran of IMS Marketing accepting the ‘Excellence in Practice Silver Award’ from the European Foundation for Management Development, with Enterprise Ireland CEO Julie Sinnamon and Nan Gou, Programme Director, ESMT Berlin.

Irish entrepreneurs have the skills, products and services to break down barriers across Europe, according to one Galway-based marketing agency that is helping SMEs enter new markets.

Kevin Moran, Managing Director of IMS Marketing in Galway, said that this creativity and enthusiasm allows Irish entrepreneurs to punch above their weight in new markets.

He was speaking after his IMS Marketing was honoured for its ‘Enter-the-Eurozone’ Programme which has helped 19 SMEs break into Europe.

And he urged all SMEs to continue to set their ambitions on export markets as we emerge from the Covid-19 restrictions and revisit the challenges of Brexit.

Mr Moran said that IMS Marketing, along with its partners, Enterprise Ireland and ESMT Berlin, was delighted to receive the Excellence in Practice Silver Award’ from the European Foundation for Management Development.

“The vision for the ‘Enter the Eurozone’ Programme was to enable progressive Irish SMEs  to enter a new Eurozone market in a strategically led way,” he said.

“Export markets will be more important than ever for Irish companies and jobs as they now face the twin threat of Brexit and a post Covid19 economic recession.”

Accepting the Award’ from the EFMD, Mr Moran said that his company witnessed the strength of the Irish SME sector during the delivery of the award-winning ‘Enter the Eurozone’ programme.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Businesses miss out on restart grant

Stephen Corrigan

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Mr. Kenneth Deery. Photo: Andrew Downes, Xposure
CEO of Galway Chamber Kenny Deery

Just one-third of Galway business eligible for the Government’s Restart Grant have actually applied for the scheme which aims to bolster small enterprise as Covid-19 restrictions ease.

It was revealed this week that businesses in Galway City and County have received almost €4.5 million in grant aid under the scheme which offers grants of between €2,000 and €10,000 to commercial rates-liable enterprises.

To qualify for the €250 million scheme, businesses must have an annual turnover of less than €5 million; have 50 or fewer employee; and have a projected loss of revenue of 25% or more.

CEO of Galway Chamber Kenny Deery said there were many Galway businesses that had yet to apply for the grants, despite the fact that they were entitled to do so.

Only around 1,100 of the about 3,000 businesses in the city and county that may be due a pay-out have applied, and confusion over eligibility was contributing to that issue, he explained.

“Some businesses are of the view that they’re not eligible, but they need to realise that even if they only paid €500 or €1,000 in rates in 2019, they could still be eligible for €2,000,” he said.

Those who were in rates arrears were also entitled to the grant, said Mr Deery, adding that as long as a business had a rates liability in 2019, they could apply for the grant.

“The payment have just started being paid out to those who applied about two months ago, so it has been slow in terms of progressing those applications.

“What I would be saying to small businesses is that they would need to sell a lot of cups of coffee or a lot of sandwiches to make €2,000 or €5,000 in profit,” said Mr Deery.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway embraces Mass changes

Stephen Corrigan

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Parish Priest Fr Hugh Clifford wearing a mask during the distribution of Holy Communion at Mass in St Joseph’s Church, Kinvara, on Saturday evening. Photo: Joe O'Shaughnessy

Parishioners in Kinvara made a long-awaited return to weekend services on Saturday at St Joseph’s Church, and while it was far from business as usual, mass-goers expressed delight at their return to the church.

Parish Priest Fr Hugh Clifford said while there were necessary changes to what people would be accustomed to, the congregation was understanding of why that was necessary and thankful that the implementation of these measures meant they could return to services after a four-month absence.

As part of Phase 3 of the easing of restrictions, services of up to 50 people were allowed, and to respect physical distancing, that meant two seats in every three were blocked off, said Fr Hugh.

“Households can sit together, but at the moment, we have the limit of 50 people, but we hope that will change in the next phase. We have to advise people who are more vulnerable that they should consider staying at home for the time being,” he explained.

The obligation to attend Mass has been lifted since the outbreak of the Covid-19 crisis, continued Fr Hugh, meaning that people need not worry if they are unable to attend.

For the Eucharist, the Priest and Eucharistic Ministers wear face coverings and use hand sanitiser to ensure there is no cross-contamination, with Communion administered to people in their seats, said Fr Hugh.

See full coverage in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also add the paper to your online grocery delivery; you can purchase a digital edition here, or you can have it delivered at no extra charge by An Post; full details are on this website.

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