PureMentalNI: ‘Children of the Troubles’ have had Enough of Adult Inaction

Jan 7, 2020 | 5 comments


The scene at Belfast Cornmarket, Jan 4th, 2020 – student protest re schools mental health

“Everybody here knows someone who has taken their own life, and there’s been no change and its absolutely heartbreaking.”

This was Lucinda Graham – interviewed for the BBC in Belfast’s Cornmarket on Jan 4th, 2020. She and dozens of other school-going students were protesting the lack of action and resourcing for youth mental health in NI schools – and the continuing background inertia of NI politics. With a 13th January deadline looming for agreement on a power-sharing executive, these young people have had enough of waiting around while lives are at stake.

The demonstration had been initiated by PureMentalNI – a new start-up to lobby specifically on behalf of the school-going generations. Founded by two seventeen-year-olds, Matthew Taylor and Jay Buntin, it is a reaction against what they call ‘a severe lack of education on and awareness of mental health issues‘.

They blame first of all the NI Department of Education for this – for leaving schools under-resourced.

“We have seen mutual friends who have been in need to help and support in school, with very serious issues, and were often brushed aside and not taken seriously – it was instead individual teachers, rather than pastoral care team members who helped them,” says Jay Buntin.  “Very little time has been spent on making clear what services are available inside and outside of school, what procedures are in place, and how to look after one’s mental health – this is opposed to physical health, which has a lot of time spent on it by schools (and rightfully so).”

Asked about the cross-community dimension, Jay insists:

“We have had support from, and have worked with, young people, schools, and politicians from all over Northern Ireland, and religions. Mental health is an issue that affects everybody, it doesn’t matter what religion they belong to or what political beliefs they hold. We have had support from unionist politicians in the Ulster Unionist Party, nationalist politicians in the SDLP and Sinn Fein, and those in the middle from Alliance. We have been working in predominantly protestant schools such as Wallace High School and predominantly Catholic schools like St Dominic’s. The young people joining us come from all different backgrounds and have presented only one thing – young people’s mental health – not any creed or tradition.”

When we asked what PMNI sees as missing in schools’ ‘pastoral care’ Jay answered:

Confidentiality, efficiency, and necessary training and resources.

“In one school we looked into we discovered that if a pupil had a serious mental health issue (and would need referral to a professional service), they would need to do the following: speak to their teacher; they would pass it onto the pupil’s head of year this would then be passed on to the vice-principal in-charge of counselling; they would then pass this onto the pupil’s parents and the school counsellor; the school counsellor would then tell the head of safeguarding; finally, they would pass them on to the necessary professionally service. We think this leads to far too many people being involved, that it’s far too time-consuming and inefficient.”

Budgetary constraints on schools are also an issue for the group:

“Schools need to be able to provide training for their staff so that they can effectively deal with mental health issues as they arise, and schools need to have the resources to educate staff and pupils on looking after their own mental health, and that of those around them. Without funding and direction – due to an absent Stormont currently – schools will find this increasingly difficult.”

Role of Churches in Youth Mental Health?

Asked whether the churches could have a useful role in this situation, Jay replied:

“Church does offer comfort to those worried about the  anxieties they face. It can give them answers in times of discomfort and vulnerability. This does give relief and hope to many, and can, doubtless, help some with mental well-being.

“However, for historic reasons, many may feel uncomfortable sharing their problems in a church environment due to a perceived closed mindset. Furthermore, there can be a lack of trust between the public and the Church (particularly the RC Church).”

When asked about this latter circumstance, Jay made it clear that the issue of clerical abuse and its mishandling by senior clergy is well understood by young people today.  However, there is, he insists, the potential for a positive role by all churches.

“Similarly to schools, churches are somewhere that a message of well-being, of one’s mental health and those of others can be shared and promoted. There are great teachings of protecting one another from physical harm, the same can be applied to mental health. Church is a key platform which is rarely used to promote this message. The teachings of hope, of positivity and love can certainly form part of the solution to this suicide and mental health crisis we face.

“Talking is key to dealing with mental health, and whether it be confession, one-to-one with a pastor of any kind, groups or sermons – churches talk. They let congregants share issues and seek guidance and support. This is certainly beneficial to their mental health. Finally, churches form a kind if community – this sense of belonging and companionship is very important.”

PureMentalNI has a Twitter presence: @purementalNI

and can be found also at:


and: https://purementalni.wixsite.com/northernireland

ACI Submission to Conference of Irish Bishops – 01/10/2019


  1. Mary Vallely

    Heartbreaking indeed and another young lad, only 11 years of age, was buried yesterday in Belfast leaving another devastated family who may never know the reasons why.

    Our lack of a functioning Assembly, our dearth of adequate resources for dealing with the mental health of our young people and the clumsy and inefficient time consuming policies which seem to prioritise protection of adult staff rather than prioritising the immediate care of children can only add to the general cynicism. It is shameful to be reminded of our own Church’s dreadful failure to love and honour children, its most valued members.

    There is a note of hope however in what the admirable young Jay states about the potential of churches being places of positivity where a community can gather to show support, to listen and share and to take responsibility for trying to reach out in loving compassion to the wounded, hurt and bewildered young people who are growing up in what can seem to be a very harsh and cruel world.

    As parents, as priests, as members of a Christ centred community it is our duty to show young people that hope is always, always alive and that they are loved, loved deeply and unconditionally, no matter how badly they may feel the world treats them.
    Have we failed as Christians, I wonder, to project and to reflect this image of hope and joy in our beliefs?

    I often attend services and events in our local Baptist church and there is a real sense of community there. Granted they have a purpose built gathering centre with a crèche and a community hall where people can gather after worship and socialise. That is missing from our own. Our churches are often just places of worship, mass is seen too often as the ‘be -all and end -all’ and with rarely a sign of peace actually enacted, just said, there can be a sense of isolation and not of community bonding. We could learn so much from our other Christian brethren and sisters about better community bonding. It is a terrible indictment of our failure as church if so many of our young Catholic males feel such despair and hopelessness that they no longer want to live.

    • soconaill

      How right you are, Mary, about the typical Irish Catholic pro-forma Mass – so often lacking in all invitation to ongoing communion and in any arresting message related to current social issues, or even to internal Catholic issues. To complain about ‘secularism’ and then to leave all social action and all discussion to secular agencies and secular space is so clearly self-defeating and daft – but where must I go to find clergy who realise that? The crowning lunacy is then to lament the absence of young people from our services, without ever respecting them enough to give them an opportunity to explain! There is no question whatsoever that the Catholic clericalist ‘say nothing’ culture we have inherited is a far greater challenge to the mental health of younger generations than a support for it.


      Point well made Mary.
      Too many priests feel that once they have said morning Mass (and earned their stipend) their day’s work is mostly done. They see celebrating Masses as their sole means of evangelization, something I also experienced when working in two African countries while living with groups of Catholic priests.

      I have been in my house for nearly 50 years and have seen a priest at my door twice. The first was a retired missionary priest helping out in the parish 40 years ago. The second visit was by the PP demanding the right to attend a small monthly interdenominational bible study group that was taking place in my home that evening. He sat in our midst, never introduced himself or partook in the sharings, made notes and half way through the meeting got up and left without saying a word. In my caravanning days we were often visited by a Protestant minister telling us the location of his church and leaving us the times of Sunday services. Never once were we visited by a Catholic priest or Catholic lay person.

      A good friend has just left the Catholic Church and joined her local Presbyterian church. She experienced taking her two boys to Mass every Sunday as total boredom for them and herself. Since arriving locally several years ago she had never been visited by a priest or member of the Catholic community. The Presbyterian female minister, on the other hand, visited her and her family within two weeks of her attending her church and welcomed her and her family into their community. When that friend had a new baby a few months later a member of the Presbyterian congregation appeared at the house with a beautiful cake to congratulate her on the birth of her new baby. Her boys now enjoy partaking in several events each week in the church hall – nothing in our church hall that closes during the summer, Easter and Christmas holidays when parents and their children need it most. Her two sons now enjoy Sunday service with its lively and joy-filled singing.

      That is the second friend with young children who, in recent years, has left the Catholic Church and joined another denomination for the sake of her children, to nourish her own and their faith and to experience belonging to a loving, accepting and active church community.

      • soconaill

        That says it all, Aidan. Our clergy are trained and ready only for weekly transmission, and for a mystificatory aloofness. All most of them will leave as a legacy is wilderness, because they can neither lead nor get out of the way. The parable of the talents will nevertheless be preached upon, without the slightest self-awareness.

        Are they too made afraid by the hierarchical monitoring system, the potential of a letter to the CDF to unseat them if they divert in any slight way from the path they have already marked through the minefield? It staggers me how often the ‘personal charm’ of the last pope is remarked upon, as though that could compensate for the scorched earth his phobia for ‘dissent’ left behind.

        And meanwhile, as you illustrate, the Holy Spirit has liberty to move other churches to begin reclaiming the same scorched earth. John Paul II and Benedict XVI and the Irish hierarchy they left us with have made sure that there is no ordained Irish Catholic adult educator of the calibre of Rev. Johnston McMaster, Methodist. That lust for control turned our clergy into an anachronism that consumes itself and leaves no legacy – the shrivelling fig tree that bears no fruit.

        • AIDAN HART

          As a priest friend said to me a long time ago, “We priests are just Mass machines!!!.


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