All posts by actionmentalhealth

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2018 takes place from 26 February to 4 March.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is an international awareness event, fighting the myths and misunderstandings that surround anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and OSFED (other specified feeding or eating disorder).

This week AMH will be reporting on the experiences of local people who are affected by Eating Disorders.

  1. Charli’s Story 
  2. Claire’s Story
  3. Kerri’s Story
  4. Dave’s Story

Firstly by way of introduction, we’ll just clarify what is meant by an Eating Disorder, dispel a few myths and look at the statistics available so we can have a picture of just how wide spread Eating Disorders are and the effect they are having in our local community.

Please get in touch if you want to share your experience – and follow us on Twitter and Facebook @amhNI.

What is an Eating Disorder

The most common eating disorders are:

  • anorexia nervosa – when you try to keep your weight as low as possible by not eating enough food, exercising too much, or both
  • bulimia – when you sometimes lose control and eat a lot of food in a very short amount of time (binging) and are then deliberately sick, use laxatives (medication to help you poo), restrict what you eat, or do too much exercise to try to stop yourself gaining weight
  • binge eating disorder (BED) – when you regularly lose control of your eating, eat large portions of food all at once until you feel uncomfortably full, and are then often upset or guilty
  • other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED) – when your symptoms don’t exactly match those of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, but it doesn’t mean it’s a less serious illness

OSFED is the most common, then binge eating disorder and bulimia. Anorexia is the least common.

What causes eating disorders?

We don’t know exactly what causes eating disorders.

You may be more likely to get an eating disorder if:

  • you or a member of your family has a history of eating disorders, depression, or alcohol or drug addiction
  • you have been criticised for your eating habits, body shape or weight
  • you’re overly concerned with being slim, particularly if you also feel pressure from society or your job – for example, ballet dancers, jockeys, models or athletes
  • you have anxiety, low self-esteem, an obsessive personality, or are a perfectionist
  • you have been sexually abused

Dispelling the Myths

  • Eating Disorders are not primarily about food and weight
  • People can and DO recover
  • Eating Disorders can affect anyone of any age, gender or background

Although an Eating Disorder is a complex mental health condition, in its simplest, it is about using food as an emotional tool. For the person with an eating disorder, controlling food and the body is their way of relieving distress or managing their emotions and achieving some degree of control over their life. Their eating disorder provides them with a sense of safety.

Eating disorders in particular are highly stigmatised, with people commonly dismissing the condition as a ‘diet fad’, a ploy for attention, or simply as ‘normal’ behaviour.

Men and women of any age can get an eating disorder, but they most commonly affect young women aged 13 to 17 years old – but even as young as eight.

Eating disorders don’t happen overnight. They typically progress slowly, and are often triggered by something seemingly innocent, such as the desire for a child to lose a few pounds, or encouragement to over-train for a sport.

Eating disorders include extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. They may be coupled with high levels of anxiety, or with specific anxiety disorders like OCD.

The Stats

Each year in Northern Ireland, some 50-120 people develop anorexia nervosa and around 170 people develop bulimia nervosa. There are around 100 admissions to acute hospitals for eating disorders annually. This excludes patients requiring inpatient treatment outside Northern Ireland. Between July 2012 and September 2015, the HSC Board advised that 52 referrals were
made for ECRs to other hospitals or clinics in Great Britain or the Republic of Ireland. Two of these were young people under the age of 18. – The Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority
Assurance, Challenge and Improvement in Health and Social Care, Review of Eating Disorder Services in Northern Ireland, December 2015.

While over 700,000 women and men in the UK have a diagnosed eating disorder at any one time, research suggests that this number vastly underestimates the true size of the problem in the UK with estimates suggesting that up to 80% of individuals who screen positively for having an eating disorder have never accessed help or support.

Eating disorders claim more lives than any other mental illness, one in five of the most seriously affected will die prematurely from the physical consequences or suicide. But one of the most harmful symptoms of an eating disorder is SILENCE, we want to encourage those affected to speak out for support and know that a listening, understanding and confidential ear will be here to support you towards recovery.


With research suggesting that as many as 1 in 20 people will develop an eating disorder over their lifetime it’s important we raise awareness of this mental health condition throughout our community and provide much needed support and training within this area of mental health




Northern Ireland’s mental health crisis to be raised with PM Theresa May


A powerful lobby of mental health practitioners and charities lead by AMH’s Chief Executive David Babington, travelled to Westminster to meet MPs and Peers this week to shine the spotlight on the issue of a severe lack of funding and policy development within Northern Ireland’s mental health services.

Members of Together for You, a group of Northern Ireland’s leading mental health charities, the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists met in London seeking action on the worsening mental health crisis in Northern Ireland.

Following the reception Action Mental Health’s Chief Executive David Babington said:

“We were delighted that the DUP’s Sir Jeffery Donaldson pledged to raise the issue of mental health with the Prime Minister Theresa May and thereafter the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley.

“We were disappointed that despite the hundreds of invitations issued to MPs no Conservative or Labour MP attended the meeting, however we will be taking up the offer of presenting to the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee as soon as possible.”

Mr Babington paid tribute to Sir Jeffery Donaldson for hosting the event and also singled out Sinn Fein’s Michelle Gildernew for addressing the group on the urgent need for better mental health services for Northern Ireland’s young people.  There was also a cross party commitment from MPs at Westminster to reconvene to move issues along.

Mental health crisis in Northern Ireland is being exacerbated by ongoing political stalemate, say leading experts

Northern Ireland Mental health charities, Mental Health Foundation and Royal College of Psychiatrists highlight that more people have died from suicide since the Belfast Agreement than were killed during the Troubles

Together for You, a group of Northern Ireland’s mental health charities, lead by Action Mental Health, the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists are to meet Westminster MPs and peers seeking action on the worsening mental health crisis in Northern Ireland. The meetings, which take place today – 20th February at Westminster, come just days after talks to restore the Power Sharing Stormont Executive spectacularly collapsed.

Recently the shock statistic was revealed that more people have died through suicide since the Belfast Agreement was signed than died in the entirety of the Troubles. More than 4,400 suicides were registered in Northern Ireland in the 19 years between 1998 and 2016, whilst during the Troubles, between 1969 and 1997, it is estimated that 3,600 people died.

The delegation, which is led by Action Mental Health and the Mental Health Foundation, say the worsening crisis is being exacerbated by Northern Ireland’s ongoing political dysfunction. Following this week’s collapse of talks to restore the Stormont Executive after 13 months of no functioning government in Northern Ireland, the advocates will demand that Westminster acts quickly to deliver the agreed mental health priorities. A range of initiatives already have cross party support including a regional trauma service to address the mental health legacy of the conflict.

The delegation, led by David Babington, Chief Executive of Action Mental Health and Dr Iris Elliott, Head of Policy and Research of the Mental Health Foundation, will highlight the dire state of Northern Ireland mental health service provision and the urgent need for clear policy and increased funding. David Babington of Action Mental Health said the group had come to London to say Westminster needs to sit up and take notice;

 “The rest of the UK needs to understand that while we in Northern Ireland have endured over a year with no functioning government, our health service is being starved of funding and decision making, and we are seeing a deeply worrying rate of suicide. It’s hard to believe that more people have now died through suicide than were killed in the Troubles, but the statistic is very real and so is the suffering taking place here. This cannot be allowed to continue. Where is the duty of care to the people of Northern Ireland? Moreover, where is the £50 Million in extra funding for mental health which was promised nearly a year ago? Is anyone in charge?

 He added,

 “We have been calling for the appointment of a Mental Health Champion to work across government in Northern Ireland to tackle the mental health crisis for years. This appointment is more pertinent now than ever in the face of ongoing political deadlock. Northern Ireland has a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental illness than England – 1 in 5 adults here has a mental health condition at any one time. People are dying and this is simply unacceptable”

 The Together for You Group and the Mental Health Foundation are attending a reception in Parliament hosted by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on Mental Health in Northern Ireland: in the absence of a local Assembly, what now for mental health policy and funding?

Dr Iris Elliott of the Mental Health Foundation added,

We cannot achieve a peaceful society in Northern Ireland without peaceful minds. If we invest in mental health support and work together to prevent mental health problems, then mental health will be an asset for our society.

The failure to deliver for mental health over the last 13 months, and indeed over the last 20 years since the Peace Settlement, is unacceptable. Mental Health Foundation is standing alongside Northern Ireland mental health charities and professional bodies to call for immediate Government action.

During the last 13 months we have lost so many opportunities to support people experiencing mental health problems and prevent their occurrence. Therefore, commitments secured need to be robustly monitored by politicians at Westminster. Whatever form of Government we have in Northern Ireland, mental health must be its top priority.”

The chair of the Northern Ireland Royal College of Psychiatrists, Gerry Lynch agreed,

“It is imperative that mental health policy and service development doesn’t stagnate in the absence of a devolved administration. Given the underfunding of mental health care in Northern Ireland, new policies and reforms must be driven forward as a matter of urgency”.

A reception will take place at 3pm on Tuesday 20th of February in Committee Room 19. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, MP for Lagan Valley, will host and chair the event.

Speakers include:-

  • David Babington – Chief Executive of Action Mental Health
  • Dr Iris Elliott – Head of Policy and Research, Mental Health Foundation
  • Dr Gerry Lynch – Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland

During the reception, we will bring together parliamentarians, practitioners, policy makers and academics interested in mental health in Northern Ireland to develop an agenda for action on mental health.


  • Northern Ireland has a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental illness than England – 1 in 5 adults here have a mental condition at any one time.
  • Inequality gaps for mental health indicators narrowed over the last five years. Despite this narrowing, the gaps for self-harm admissions and suicide remained large with the self-harm admission rate in the most deprived areas four times, and the crude suicide rate almost treble, that seen in the least deprived areas. The rate for mood and anxiety prescriptions was 69% higher in the most deprived areas than in the least deprived.
  • More than 20% of young people are experiencing “significant mental health problems” by their 18th birthday. 17% of men and 32% of women aged 35-44 show signs of depression
  • The rates of depression in Northern Ireland are associated closely with unemployment, low educational achievement and social deprivation
  • A quarter of suicide inquiries in the UK showed that the individual died within three months of discharge from in-patient care. In England and Wales, 40% died before the first review appointment. This was 35% in Scotland and 66% in Northern Ireland

Briefing – Mental Health Crisis in Northern Ireland

Action Mental Health’s Marathon Efforts to Raise Vital Funds

The ethos of Action Mental Health and its focus on helping people to recover from mental ill-health was what attracted the charity’s inaugural runner to sign up for this year’s Belfast City Marathon.

Craig Downey was the first person to pledge all the money he raises by tackling the gruelling 26.2 mile run, through the city this spring, to Action Mental Health.

The 31-year-old electrical engineer, who is originally from Derry/Londonderry but who now lives in Antrim, will be donning the AMH purple with pride on the bank holiday run which this year takes place on Monday, May 7.

It will be Craig’s second marathon, having already run the Lough Ness Marathon in Scotland. Over the years Craig has fundraised for numerous charities but this year opted to run the marathon for Action Mental Health, due in part to the greater spotlight currently being shone on the issue.

But Craig, who adds weight training and CrossFit to his list of physical hobbies, also has a more personal reason for choosing a mental health charity.

“I’ve got a few family members who suffer from anxiety and I’ve suffered from anxiety myself. I’d have weeks and months that would go by, fine, and then something would trigger it and it snowballs.

“I want to promote the fact that some men especially, who suffer from this type of thing, are afraid of speaking out to tell anyone else about it, or of showing any weakness, physical, mental or emotional.

“My girlfriend is also a mental health nurse and it’s just the fact that this can affect all walks of life, whether you’re rich or poor or whatever, it doesn’t discriminate, same as cancer.

“I want to promote the thought that if you are struggling, you have to take that first step and talk to someone about it,” he added.

After deciding upon a mental health charity, he explains why he chose Action Mental Health.

“The ethos of Action Mental Health is practically word for word the same as my blurb on my Just Giving page and it’s the focus placed on the recovery of people suffering from mental health problems that appealed to me.”

Craig has already drawn up his marathon training schedule and will soon be doing forty miles per week, at the least, to get into his best shape for the spring event.

“I don’t believe in putting your body through something like this without doing it all for charity,” he says, and hopes to beat his last marathon time of 3.5 hours whilst raising at least £1000 in sponsorship.

Action Mental Health’s Events Officer Callum Clark is delighted to welcome Craig into the growing stable of fundraisers who raise much needed funds to help the charity provide services for people of all ages living with a range of mental health issues as well as promoting positive mental health to children and young people across Northern Ireland.

“Having people like Craig don the purple jersey for Action Mental Health means so much to us.

“As a local charity we rely heavily on people’s generous fundraising efforts to help provide our services and we certainly hope many more people follow Craig’s lead and nominate Action Mental Health as their beneficiary for the Belfast City Marathon 2018.”

If you have been inspired by Craig’s story, why not sign up for the Belfast City Marathon to run, walk or relay on behalf of Action Mental Health.


Sign up at and get in touch with our fundraising team on


Shout Out for Volunteers!

The AMH Team are on the look out for enthusiastic Volunteers to help with all things fundraising from charity collections, to bag packs, to helping out at numerous events throughout Northern Ireland.

If you have some free time to help #TakeActionOnMentalHealth we would love to hear from you.

For more information please contact , we look forward to hearing from you!

Michelle’s Story

On Tuesday 28th April 2015 I entered the AMH New Horizons building in Downpatrick feeling very stressed, anxious, frightened and unsure.  I had a fear of strangers and felt no-one liked me which is why I spent so many years in hiding.  As a result of this I wasn’t the wife, mother, sister or daughter and auntie I should have been.

During my time at New Horizons I learnt to lower my guard gradually.  It wasn’t hard because the staff were all so friendly and knowledgeable.  They worked with people like me daily, and had no intentions on giving up on me, which made me feel that I could not give up no matter how hard it got for me.  Persistence and the goal to be the new person my family and I could be proud of and able to live with, kept me focused.

I took part in a number of classes such as healthy living, confidence building, stress management, etc.  I updated myself on computer skills, interview techniques and topped it all off with a NVQ in Customer Service Skills with AMH’s help.

Now for the icing on the cake!!  I am now working in one of the busiest shops in Downpatrick and I am face to face with customers of all ages and from all walks of life.  It is challenging but I enjoy every minute of it.

All that is left for me to say is thank-you one and all with all my heart.

Michelle took part in the “Working it Out” project which is part-funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014-2020 and the Department for the Economy.

New Horizons Downpatrick clients tread the boards in ‘Fighting Back’

The stars of the show left to right Robert Watson, Margaret Brown, Patricia Hickland, Ashley Walker and James Murphy.

As part of a CCEA Performance Skills qualification, service users from Downpatrick New Horizons created their own theatre company, ‘Masquerade Theatre Company’ and staged a performance of a play, ‘Fighting Back’ last December, before an enthusiastic audience. The show confronted issues around prejudice and discrimination and included a physical theatre piece which explored mental health through expressionist movement. The cast of five agreed their journey through theatre was both empowering and rewarding. They said:
“I felt so proud that I was able to stand up and act out in front of an audience. The buzz I felt was incredible…I could do it over and over again,” said Patricia Hickland.
“I really enjoyed performing in front of my family members and I felt so proud of myself. I feel I have overcome a lot of barriers like social anxieties and lacking confidence,” said Robert Watson.
James Murphy concurred: “I have found the programme really enjoyable and it has given a boost to my mental well-being.”
Margaret Brown said: “The sense of achievement I feel is amazing. I have overcome fears and anxieties by moving out of my comfort zone. Being part of our drama group was one of the best experiences of my life. I would definitely consider further study of drama.”
“I have thoroughly enjoyed the performance aspect of this course and it has ignited within me a passion for acting. I would definitely consider further study of theatre in an FE setting or university,” said Ashley Walker,

Mental Illness and Creativity

There are various ways that creativity can be used for healing. As someone who has suffered from bi-polar disorder I can say, without a doubt, that creativity has helped me see through the chaos to a clearer place.  What is of more interest now, is how creativity has helped me connect to the world again.

Bi-polar disorder can be a dark and isolating place. Yet I can also remember times of great happiness.  I would have spent time walking around the garden and writing poetry.  The stillness of my parent’s home and the beauty of words became a refuge for me.  I also enjoyed renovating small pieces of furniture and decorating a table.  The creativity gave me the chance to feel free and the power to realise that I could still make beauty possible.  The excitement, the mystery and the clearing of the mind was inwardly felt.

As life began to get darker and darker, someone advised me to buy an art pad and paints. I started to use colours and words to express my feelings and my pain, working through the darkness in a way I could never have done with a therapist.  Symbols came up in my drawings which expressed hurts that I wasn’t ready to express in words.  The art can work in this way giving the mind a way to express emotions and to expiate them.  As Barbara Gamin reflects:

“When we use words to talk about our feelings what we get is the left brain’s judgemental interpretation. But when we use the right brain’s language of imagery, we get the truth of our experiences and feelings, because judgement is not a right-brain function.”

It has been said that creativity can give us something that a therapist cannot. Creativity can help us take the lead in our own healing and to express what we maybe can’t find words for.  Although this is the case I do not think it is a good idea to use this as a replacement for a therapist.  Louise De Salvo talks about this in her book “Writing as a Way of Healing”:

“I personally believe that a strong, highly qualified support system is essential for writers with histories of extreme trauma and writers with port-traumatic stress”.

When writing for healing, it is important that there is a link between feelings and the events in a person’s life. It is this link between the writer and the world that ensures that the writer is focused towards the world, rather than just inwardly.  In this way a writer can cultivate an openness and attentiveness to the world around them.

Personally I have found that writing has helped me to develop a sense of myself and has lessened the fear of solitude. I am not afraid of myself because I have made the link between my feelings and the world around me.  The traumas of my life have been written about and I have changed them in my words.  I have found a hobby and a gift that I can turn to anytime.  There is now also an outlet to put my mind to use.  In this way the illness does not own me.  I own my own life and have been able to take this gift into the world by publishing ad directing a play.

To those who have mental health problems I would like to say don’t be afraid to be creative. Do take the time, even if it seen like you are busy.  There are of course many different ways to be creative.  I have talked mostly of creative writing and painting.  One aspect I have not mentioned is that of cooking.  This is one that can be open to many people and can give us a skill that we can use.  Cooking is also something that gives the mind a clear link to outer experience and the world.  While I was ill I decided to become a cook and to make parties for my family.  The cooking helped me to focus my mind and to use my gifts to engage with life.  Sometimes instead of thinking dark thoughts I would begin to think about recipes and how I enjoyed creativity to spend time with others.

If you have a mental health problem try and think of something creative you would like to do. Try and do this in a way that involves interacting in the world.  If you want to be a writer join a writer’s group.  If you want to use art therapeutically find a good registered art therapist.  If you want to cook, bake buns for your friends.  Whatever you do, enjoy being creative and don’t be afraid of your feelings.

By Ruth Kennedy