Awareness of mental health issues – especially those impacting youth – has been growing following the COVD-19 pandemic. In Ireland, A Lust for Life – a non-profit organization that partners with schools – has been expanding its work in order to assist and empower more youngsters.

The multi-award-winning charity says it reaches youth and adults through content rooted in psychology, mindfulness, and education. Since entering schools in 2020, the program, which is free to educators, has been delivered in around 655 schools.

“We want to be in every single school and every single classroom in Ireland so that no child is denied the opportunity to grow up empowered to manage their own mental health effectively,” Managing Director Bernie Keogh tells Celtic Life International via email.

“Getting young people involved in tackling social challenges in their communities and the world has profoundly positive impacts on their mental and emotional wellbeing…”

Keogh – whose own family roots are in Wicklow, Cork, and Dublin – believes that even very young children can be taught skills and tools to become more psychologically aware and emotionally resilient, effectively improving the country’s mental health systems as well as the lives of individuals.

A Lust for Life is currently boosting awareness of its Schools Program to the media and key health officials. It is also busy piloting its Gone Past Talking (GPT) teenage programs before proceeding to a full-scale launch next year. GPT is aimed at 15 and 16-year-old students. It is hoped that the 26-week educational and mentoring program will enable young people to change their communities.

The group’s multi-featured website also offers podcasts, live, interactive events, as well as feature articles written by individuals who share their personal struggles with mental health – covering subjects ranging from anxiety to alcohol dependence, and offering hope to others going through a tough time. The site also hosts Not on My Watch, described as “a tribe” of adults committed to protecting youth mental health.

Keogh says the group’s priorities include developing a solution for college-level students who are suffering severe anxiety and mental health challenges post-pandemic and supporting parents and teachers who are themselves supporting youth.

“For 2023, we will be developing the school’s programs for the first two years of primary school, which will involve working with the mental health panel to develop the content and then producing it, before piloting in a number of schools and evaluating its impact via PhD research students from University College Dublin and Dublin City University. It is going to be a busy year.”

The group’s website and social media channels have reached 41 million people since 2015. Ambition and fast growth naturally create challenges, particularly around funding.

A Lust for Life does not aspire to be a big charity. Their goal is to develop digital, scalable programs which are free and can reach a lot of people. However, admits Keogh, if they had more income, they could invest in their solutions more quickly.

Supporters are asked to donate, and Keogh says that ninety per cent of funds go to program development. Supporters are also invited to share their own struggles with mental health.

“If you have had mental health challenges of your own and would be happy to share your story…we would love to hear from you.”

Though small, the organization’s reach is growing fast. Keogh works with co-founders Niall Breslin and Paula McLoughlin, as well as “a very committed board, and a very talented and passionate team”.

The ultimate aim is to introduce and implement their programs in other countries. Keogh herself is new in the job, moving in June to A Lust for Life after 20 years in business management. Her commitment to her new role runs deep: as well as working as managing director, she is training to be a psychotherapist.

She feels inspired by the organization’s mission, believing in the goal of ensuring that future generations are equipped to be guardians of their own minds and better able to navigate the inevitable ups and downs of life.