Tackling Bullying in the modern world.

Bullying has existed throughout human history. During the 20th century, the stereotype of the strong male bully gained traction and is the dominant version of bullying present in public discourse. 

In reality, bullying is a pervasive form of abuse and one that millions of people experience around the world, often on a daily basis. Its perpetrators are as likely to be female as male and a majority of them are considered popular with their peers or work colleagues. Its impact on the physical and mental of people cannot be overstated. 

We all know that the advent of mobile phones and social media changed the nature of this abuse. What may have ended at the school gates or in the workplace could now occur 24/7. We also know little has been done by social media companies to regulate or stop this abuse. 

What hasn’t been acknowledged is the trauma that bullying can cause and the pervasive nature of this trauma. So even if the message doesn’t happen online – people still live with the abuse all the time. 

The modern research on ambivalent loss highlights the challenge people face when they are confronted with situations that challenge or change their sense of self and identity. Bullying by its very nature undermines peoples sense of self. 

The question we have is how to tackle it. 

Firstly we need a public health campaign on the reality of bullying – how it can appear and challenge some of the stereotypes and common misconceptions involved.

Secondly, there should be an independent statutory process for handling claims of bullying, regardless of the setting in which it takes place. This would ensure a uniform standard for investigation and would also bring to light serial perpetrators. The creation of this process would require inter-departmental work and would be a challenge. However, if the pandemic has thought us anything it is that the agents of the state can quickly adapt if faced with a crisis.

Thirdly social media companies should be required to stop bullying on their platforms and permanently ban anyone who perpetrates it. In particular, they should focus on the pervasive abuse that women, LGBT people and ethnic minorities experience online. This new form of oversight should form part of the independent regulation of social media companies. One which would also take into account the harm they cause to young people’s mental health and the addictive nature of their design. 

Finally, a specific law should be introduced to make it a criminal offence to suggest or encourage someone to take their own life online. This is a particularly dangerous form of abuse and should be treated with the utmost seriousness by the law.

Improving access to early interventions to support young people and their mental health

Ireland has experienced a rise in Mental Health problems in recent years. This has been made worse by the pandemic but it was already a growing issue in the past decade. 

Many mental health issues first emerge when people are young and often there is a delay from when a young person seeks help to when they receive the support they need. 

At present, the government funds a variety of different services from dedicated CAMHS, Primary Care and Adult Mental Health Services to organisations like Jigsaw and Pieta House. In secondary schools guidance counsellors often provide therapeutic support and intervention and universities provide counselling.

The first port of call for many seeking help is their GP. GPs not only refer young people to specialist services but also provide crucial ongoing support. Many are frustrated with the waiting times or the rejections they receive when seeking support for young people. Too many GPs feel they need to provide additional support to make up for a lack of local services.

In addition to the various organisation providing support, our emergency services provide crucial input out of hours and many young people receive support in their local paediatric hospital. The HSE text support system was an excellent innovation and ensured rapid access to support for young people in a crisis. 

At present we have a system where multiple services provides support to young people’s mental health but where the integration between services is often weak or non-existent. 

This leads to a situation where young people are delayed in receiving the support they need and this means they are more likely to need more intense intervention from specialists services or require urgent admission to hospital. 

The ad hoc funding model means there is a geographic disparity with some areas lacking the input of organisations such as Jigsaw, which provide crucial therapeutic support to young people in distress. 

To address this situation we need to change how the system operates. The first priority must be that any young person who seeks support for their mental health receives it. 

This means having an integrated referral system where organisations work together to ensure every young person receives the support they need. The organisations could form hubs that accept referrals and direct them to the correct service. This would reduce the workload on GP’s who would only need to make one referral and it would mean people wait less time to be seen. The development of geographic hubs should help to highlight areas where additional funding or access to certain treatments is required. 

It may be necessary to develop easy to access drop-in supports for young people could where they could access counsellors and youth workers and address issues that may not meet the threshold of CAMHS services. This is available already in some areas but needs to be available to all. This may mean changing the funding or organisation of some service providers that currently exists. It should also be done on self-referral basis. 

Research from the UK shows many young people value the input of their GP in supporting their mental health. GPs should be able to receive additional supports for their work with young people. 

Increasing the number of inpatient beds must be a priority to reduce the number of young people attending adult psychiatric units or their local paediatric ward. This would mean young people would access age-appropriate services in their local area and it would reduce the pressure on local general hospitals. 

It’s clear that the way services are provided needs to change and the funding model can be simplified to meet the needs of young people. In addition to this further funding will be required to hire mental health clinicians. 

Finally, we should ensure that everyone working with young people has training in suicide prevention. This should be mandatory for everyone that currently has to complete children first training. This research should be evidence based and the use of this training may help reduce the risk to young people who seek help and support. 

Eoin Barry Seanad Campaign – Issue #4

The university panels for Seanad Éireann have a long history of independent campaigns. In general, parties don’t select candidates for the campaign but often members run and sit with their parties after the election. In this newsletter, I’ll explore the nature of political independence and why even though my campaign is independent, I’ll sit with Labour if elected. 

In recent years politics and political campaigning has changed significantly. In Ireland, there has been a move away from the old two and a half party system and social media has changed the nature of campaigns. The result of the last three general elections has highlighted this rapid change, with each result feeling unprecedented in some respect. In addition, the rise of social media has resulted in a frantic pace of campaigning and an always-on culture for candidates. This is unlikely to slow down any time soon and the next general election could very well be defined by short-form videos and streaming platforms. In this respect, politics has changed. However, the traditional Art of Politics remains in place. The ability to get things done through a mixture of compromise, balance, pragmatism and principles remain. It is in trying to bring about this change where decisions on independence or working within the party system come to the fore. This raises the question of what do we mean when we talk about political independence. The traditional view is a politician free of the responsibility of being in a political party, able to stand on the issues they are interested in and free from the party whip system. In this regard, the independent politician can take a clear stand without the need for compromise. This is where there the story of political independence would end if the only pressure on the politician was from the political party that they represented. Of course, this isn’t the case. Every politician when elected needs to try to understand the needs of their constituents, take into account the views of various pressure groups and try to do what’s best for the country. This is particularly true for Irish Senators, who are elected through various boards but who represent the nation as a whole. The question then for all politicians, regardless of being in party or independent is how do they balance the views of the various groups that they represent and how to achieve the change that they were elected to bring about. Understanding the views of the electorate is often a challenge. Opinion polls can be inaccurate. Letters to politicians can originate from the various lobby groups and many voters prefer to keep their views to themselves. While it may seem that Twitter provides a window into the views of voters we know that this isn’t the case, the vast majority of people that use the service don’t tweet and of those that do only a tiny percentage tweet about politics. This small minority only represents a narrow set of viewpoints. A politician that tries to follow the wave of what seems popular online will soon get in trouble. Thankfully voters don’t just expect their elected representatives to mirror their views but trust that they will listen to different sources of information before ultimately making up their own minds. As someone who has studied and trained in systemic theories, I believe every representative is part of a broader system, influenced by the culture and issues of the time. In this respect, no one can be fully independent. The next pressure on the elected representative is how to manage the various lobby and pressure groups. Thanks to the reform brought about by Brendan Howlin we can easily see the extent of lobbying in Ireland. We know there are thousands registered as lobbyists in Ireland and the number increases each year. Politicians to a greater or lesser extent will meet with groups to understand issues. The easy response could be to ignore them and remain independent in view on all issues but a quick glance at the registered lobbyists shows this would mean ignoring charity groups, health advocates and many more. The key value in this respect is being transparent, listening and then using your own judgment to decide on issues. Finally, it is the role of the elected representative to work to bring about the change that they would like to see. I believe in this regard we see the biggest difference between being within the party system and being independent. In Ireland, the vast majority of legislation is introduced and passed through the political party system. Exceptions to this rule are so rare that they stand out. However, in general, working within parties means the likelihood of making meaningful change increases. For pragmatic independent politicians who are working to bring about change, this can result in them working with various technical groupings in both the Dail and the Seanad. This concept is based on the idea that they remain independent on views but share resources to bring about change. The most notable example was the outcome of the 2016 election which saw an independent group go into government with Fine Gael, during the course of this government we could see the challenge of elected representatives trying to remain independent while being part of collective cabinet responsibility and being heavily outnumbered by one party. In my view, this system of technical grouping lacks some of the democratic principles involved in the traditional party system. For example, a voter can join most political parties in Ireland and will often have the chance to express their views or argue for policy change or bring motions to conferences to influence policy. This isn’t possible in the technical group system. It’s for these reasons that I believe the best way to bring about meaningful change is by sitting with the Labour party if elected. It would be disingenuous to suggest that I would do otherwise. I’ve been a party member throughout my adult life, was a candidate for the party in the 2019 local elections and served as the national executive of the party for three years. As the oldest party in Ireland Labour has a long and proud history. I joined the party because when it is at its best it is at the forefront of bringing about progressive change in Ireland. Labour Senators have often been at the forefront, leading this change. They have often been strong personalities with clear views and unique perspectives. The party has always respected its Senators and been open to the new ideas that each of them brings to the parliamentary party – it is this openness to change that has helped the party last over 100 hundred years. In this election, I intend to set out my own views and the type of change that I would seek if elected. As always I would love to hear your suggestions and feedback – you can email them to info@eoinbarry.ie
June 2023