Recently released statistics reveal Ireland has the highest rate in Europe for young girls taking their own lives, so when mental health activist Laura Dorgan received a Snapchat message from a young secondary school student saying, “Thank you so so much for today Laura, we all had a great time… you’ve really inspired me to get out and get exercising and get myself into shape” – it makes it all worthwhile.
Mental health is something everyone has, it is, in essence, your state of mind. The mind is your emotional heartbeat but is fickle, complex and for many, difficult to understand and manage.
We’ve all been there, those tough teenage years: body changes, new schools, new friends, peer pressure. The youth of today have all this to contend while also living in a technology fuelled, phone dependent, social media reality which poses all sorts of new problems, like cyber bullying. We could all spot that big bully on the school yard, finding the What’s App or Facebook “troll” is a whole new ball game and retreating into one’s shell can be easy, dangerous and often undetectable.
Because of this, tackling mental health in young people is more important than ever and there are various ways to tackle mental health issues and one of them is through exercise, and this has been fitness enthusiast Laura Dorgan’s calling.
Laura is a fitness instructor, owner of LauraDorganFitness.ie and manager of Fitnessworx Gym on the Tramore Road in Cork City and she has been on a mission to help young school children “Exercise Their Mental Health”.
Having experienced her own battles with mental health growing up, she recognises the clear and present dangers facing the youth of today and feels not enough is being done to tackle the problem.
“Irish people definitely have a reluctance to talk when it comes to mental health issues”, she says. “I read about so many suicides in the news and I just think it’s awful but I know how easy it is for people to slip into that dark state of mind.”
Laura believes that regular exercise is a key component in keeping people’s head above water and just because you’re not interested in sports doesn’t mean you can’t live a healthy and balanced lifestyle.
To help kids, Laura takes time off work from her busy schedule (a regular day can run from a 6 am start to an 9 pm finish) as often as possible and visits local schools to preach her positive message along with some fun filled, friendship building exercises.
“I try to make it as inclusive and as enjoyable as possible, and it is different from your regular PE class”.
This is all after Laura sits students down for a talk on mental health and the benefits of exercise for mind and body.
“I basically discuss with them my own personal experiences with mental health which I still kind of struggle with today”. I’m definitely a happy go lucky person and my work involves dealing with the public regularly but it still can be demanding and I’m just here to show students we all have our own issues and there’s nothing wrong with talking with someone regularly, I still do today.
Laura maintains that getting out in the fresh air every day can be beneficial for clearing your head and calming your thoughts. “I always say to people, ‘remember, the more you move the better your mood’”, she says.
Laura has been taken aback by the feedback she’s received from the students but points out the teachers for special praise. “I was initially approached by a teacher from Stiofan Naofa (Bishopstown, Cork) and I must say I was really struck by how much they genuinely cared about their students. This wasn’t a Department of Education or government initiative, it was set up solely by teachers who identified a problem and looked for a different approach to tackling the problem”.
Laura’s mission has received widespread recognition, even making the national papers but she just hopes it inspires other people to copy the programme and make it a national initiative.
“I think when kids see someone whose relatively successful and on social media regularly like myself, come in from the outside and personalise their own struggles it really makes them take heed. Sometimes kids can have their guard up to teachers and parents because they are naturally rebellious and nonconformists, my approach can break through those barriers”.
But Laura’s message doesn’t end when she walks out the door. Free gym passes are handed to students as well as exercise and nutritional programmes to get them started and she has her own YouTube channel showing students how to exercise properly. “It’s just the little things”, Laura maintains, but it’s those little things which can make all the difference.