Youth mental health is in spotlight at film fest

Secondary school pupils are being offered an opportunity to explore mental health and wellbeing through the Intinn programme for teens at Cork International Film Festival, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
Youth mental health is in spotlight at film fest

PERSONAL BATTLES: Jordanne Jones, who stars in ‘I Used To live Here’, which screens as part of Intinn.

A NEW film and mental health programme for Transition Year (TY) and senior cycle students nationwide is being delivered digitally to classrooms by the Cork International Film Festival (CIFF).

It continues online until November 13. Called ‘Intinn’, the Irish word for ‘mind’ or ‘way of thinking’, it offers students the opportunity to explore mental health themes and personal wellbeing through the medium of film, followed by a Q&A session and a wellbeing webinar.

The programme centres around a screening of the award-winning Irish film I Used To Live Here, directed by Frank Berry and starring a young rising actor, Dubliner Jordanne Jones, daughter of Senator Lynn Ruane.

The film was made in Tallaght and deals with a 13-year-old girl, Amy (Jones), who has had to take on much of the responsibility for running the family home after the death of her mother. She is devoted to her father, Raymond, but he is too distracted to pay his daughter much attention, particularly when an old girlfriend of his shows up.

When the news breaks that a local boy has killed himself, there is huge grief in the community which has a profound effect on Amy and her peers.

Project manager at the CIFF, Aoibhie McCarthy, says that as a result of Covid, she and her team were “pushed to make this ground-breaking programme into a digital one. It means we can reach students across the country.”

Last year, Intinn was piloted in Cork to coincide with World Suicide Day. I Used To Live Here was screened at the Gate Cinema to 300 students. That was followed by a workshop at St Peters, led by Dr Johnny Goodwin, a lecturer in mental health at UCC’s School of Nursing.

“The workshop allowed the students to unpick the themes in the film and discuss their reaction to them as well as take part in practical stress reduction skills like breathing exercises. They also learned about the different support services that are out there,” Aoibhie said.

Jordanne, who was only about 13 when she made her film debut in I Used to Live Here, has spoken about her own mental health issues and how she manages them.

Aoibhie says that the Intinn programme was to reach Munster this year. It was launched a couple of days before the lockdown in March, when the schools closed.

“We had to go back to the drawing board to see how we could get this programme to students. The need for it was even more pronounced once the closure of the schools happened.

“We felt it was very urgent to go ahead with Intinn. We came up with the idea to deliver it digitally.”

The Intinn programme is supported by Rethink Ireland, Creative Ireland and ESB Energy for Generations Fund.

The idea to create Intinn was sparked by the CIFF’s successful schools’ programme, which has been running for a number of years.

“We also had the fantastic and unique ‘Illuminate’ film and mental health programme but it was for an adult audience.

“Two years ago, we came up with the idea of bringing both of those together to create a new youth film and mental health programme. The obvious choice of film was I Used To Live Here,” said Aoibhie.

It was always intended by the director to screen the film for schools as a way of starting a conversation about mental health, wellbeing and suicide prevention.

The film is about how a suicide cluster occurred following the suicide of the boy. The tragedy has to be processed by Amy alongside a lot of other difficulties in her life such as relationships, bullying and isolation.

“A lot of it is very quiet but very real. These are difficult things that a lot of young people experience. The film deals with everything very sensitively and shows the route that the central character takes to connect with people, to reach out and find help. It shows how Amy managed, and sometimes didn’t manage the situation.”

Aoibhie says the pilot received a fantastic reaction from young people.

“They were saying that it’s one thing to talk about mental health in the classroom but watching a film and being able to see how a character reacts to a situation really helped them to develop their empathy and understanding,” she said.

“They were able to see how they might react to the situation and come to an understanding that you don’t need to be on your own, isolated, when there’s a challenge like that.”

Jordanne, now aged 19 and a student of film and English, is very much in demand as an actor. She starred in the Irish comedy Metal Heart and played the working class trader, Minnie, in RTÉ’s Rebellion. She is very open about her own mental health challenges. Guided by the hope that change can be effective if more people are open about their difficulties, Jordanne has said that acting is “really therapeutic for me”.

She has been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and bi-polar disorder.

“So, just simple things like the outside world can be extremely overwhelming for me. I spend a lot of my life pushing through all my sensory issues and just trying to take on every day and function. And I do look after myself and give myself time to breathe, and give myself time to cry.”

Frank Berry’s work began with ten years of community film-making and television. The on-the-ground work led to his critically acclaimed award-winning documentary Ballymun Lullaby. Made in 2011, it continues to be screened at film festivals around the world.

I Used to Live Here won Best First Feature Audience Award at the Galway Film Fleadh and was released in Irish cinemas. It was screened at the CIFF in 2015, and inspired by an article in the Irish Times back in 2011 by Dr Tony Bates, founding director of Headstrong (now called Jigsaw) — the National Centre for Youth Mental Health.

In the article, Dr Bates wrote that it was time to make young people part of the solution, pointing out that there is significant evidence that one suicide in a community can influence the occurrence of further suicides.

These ‘contagions’ “have mostly involved adolescents and young adults. Studies show approximately one-quarter of adolescents have experienced suicidal thoughts which makes this population highly vulnerable to contagion.”

Adolescent boys, he added, may remain vulnerable in the aftermath of a family suicide for several years.

“It can often take that long for them to ‘let in’ the full impact of their loss and when they do, their inner turmoil may be expressed in behaviours that seem reckless and uncharacteristic for them.”

After the screening of I Used to Live Here, there is a Q&A with Frank Berry, Jordanne Jones and Dr Bates. Students are then invited to participate in a wellbeing webinar with Dr Goodwin.

Frank, who shot the film at weekends for six months, says that the young first-time actors from Tallaght who are in it have “a lot of pride in the film”.

He says that the fictional nature of the film helps young audiences to discuss what interests and affects them, without revealing too much of their own emotions. It is, says Frank, “a safe film” — and an absorbing one that is particularly appropriate in the socially restricted times we live in.

For booking and enquiries, contact schools@corkfilmfest.org.

For anyone affected by any issues raised in this article, helpline services include:

The Samaritans on free confidential 24/7 helpline on 116-123. You can email j o @ s a m a r i t a n s . i e

Or contact Pieta House National Suicide Helpline on 1800 247 247 or text HELP to 51444.

More in this section

Sponsored Content