01 Jul 2020

ICHAS Student Susan Mary Lawlor Wins Global Award for Mental Health

Susan Mary Lawlor, who is a student here at ICHAS recently won an award in the 2020 Mental Health Champions. It was a terrific achievement for her and a reward for the hard work she has put in. She chatted with us not only about the award but also about the organisation State of Mind Ireland.

Tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a Mental Health Consultant, Psychotherapist, Sociologist, Co-founder of State of Mind Ireland and Founder of Áit Dhócais with over twelve years of experience delivering interactive workshops and presentations on mental fitness, as well as, anticipating client needs both on-line and in-person on a one-to-one basis in varying business, educational and healthcare sectors. 

I am currently completing a Masters (Hons) degree in Psychotherapy and Counselling. I developed a special interest in ‘difference’ following my doctorate research (where I was a recipient of the prestigious IRCHSS Scholarship). This research highlighted the lived experiences of children who were living with a cleft lip and/or palate and who were experiencing extreme ostracization and bullying because they did not ‘fit in’ to cultural ideals of ‘normality’ and ‘beauty’. I have continued to provide a ‘voice’ to young people and adults alike who are not accepted within Irish society because of ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ mental health difficulties. 

As a co-founder of the mental health charity State of Mind Ireland, along with my late brother Dr Martin Lawlor, I have worked on a voluntary capacity for over a decade in the area of mental fitness delivering training programs to thousands of people of all ages across Ireland and the UK. 

I am also a member of the Kerry GAA Mental Health and Wellbeing Committee Mental Health Initiative where I deliver bespoke psycho-education lessons on various mental health and wellbeing topics in sporting clubs. I along with the State of Mind Sport UK Team, achieved the accolade of the Guinness World Record Holders for the Worlds Largest Mental Health Awareness Lesson in 2018

Tell us a bit more about the CRSI

The CRSI (Centre Recovery and Social Inclusion) held its first meeting in the Carraig-Mór Centre (Shanakiel, Cork City,) special care unit on May 2007 and it was around this time that my late brother Dr Martin Lawlor was working as a Psychiatric Consultant in the area of mental health and had started the charity CRSI and invited me to become involved. I was eager to become involved and the opportunity allowed me to work on projects where professionals and service users came together in the field of mental health. 

The main aims of the CRSI were:

  • Promoting recovery-orientation in mental health services
  • Inter-agency working in mental health
  • Disseminating research in mental health
  • Joint working between health services, prison services and voluntary services. 

Through CRSI, I became more involved in researching not only people living with mental health conditions but looking at this area through the lens of mental health experts also. I became fascinated by their perspective and began to question what the best approach was when working in the area of mental health whilst always ensuring that the individual who was living with the mental health condition was treated with the utmost dignity and respect.

The State of Mind programme was established in England in 2011 with the aim of improving the mental health, wellbeing and working life of rugby league players and communities. This programme was subsequently adopted by the National Rugby League in Australia. Through working in partnership with our colleagues who founded State of Mind Sport UK, we are now actively promoting positive mental health here in Ireland. 

Our initial aim was to improve the mental health, wellbeing and working life of sports players and sporting communities throughout Ireland and through a joint initiative between University College of Cork (UCC), the Health Service Executive (HSE), Reach Out, All Island All Active (AIAA), Shine and The Centre for Recovery and Social Inclusion (CRSI) we began our journey. 

Since the beginning of our journey, State of Mind Ireland and its sister charity the CRSI (The Centre Of Recovery And Social Inclusion) was comprised of a team of service users, players, coaches, mental health experts and sports professionals whose principle aim was to improve the mental health, wellbeing and working life of sports players and sporting communities throughout Ireland.

Originally, we were interested in raising awareness of mental fitness by delivering comprehensive education sessions throughout Ireland (North and South) to Sports Clubs as well as to Colleges and Community Groups with the aim of raising awareness of mental health issues within sport.

Following the untimely passing of Dr. Martin Lawlor, the Programme Lead & Medical Director (HSE/CRSI/SOMI) and my dearest brother (pictured below), State of Mind Ireland became dedicated to continuing on his vision in stopping the stigma surrounding mental health through bringing dignity, respect and hope to those that we deem most vulnerable in our communities. We are determined to raise awareness of mental fitness by delivering comprehensive psycho-education sessions throughout Ireland (North and South) to Sports Clubs, but also to business, education, health sectors and to community groups. 

The key concept is that of Mental Fitness by promoting resilience, positive mental health, mindfulness, and wellbeing by adopting a strengths-based approach. Focus has moved to wider society and to all members of our community where psycho-education lessons and psychotherapeutic interventions are provided to people of all ages on a one-to-one basis or in group settings or on-line in sporting and non-sporting arenas.

I am beyond privileged to have worked and to continue to work alongside such phenomenal experts in the field, one being my brother Dr. Martin Lawlor, Programme Lead & Medical Director (HSE/CRSI/SOMI). We believe that by changing conversations we can in turn change and save lives. 

You recently won the “Individual’s Category” in the 2020 Mental Health Champions tell us more about this?

Whilst I have been striving to improve the lives of those with mental health problems and working to ensure that those suffering are treated with dignity and respect, I have never thought in a million years that I would be where I am today especially following one of the most difficult journeys of my life following the untimely death of my brother Martin. The work that we have undertaken has resulted in me earning several awards in the past year, including last year’s Connect Kerry Women in Business Community Champion Award and the prestigious Unsung Hero Award in association with Radio Kerry and Fexco. 

Susan with the Connect Kerry Award

Last month, however, I received my highest accolade to date when I was chosen as the winner of the “Individual’s Category” in the 2020 Mental Health Champions – a global awards initiative of the World Federation for Mental Health, run by the World Dignity Project. The award ceremony should have been in San Diego but was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic so I will be honoured in the World Federation for Mental Health Conference, which is co-hosted by the World Dignity Project in London, in November 2021. I will also be a presenter at the conference.

Whilst I am beyond honoured and thankful to have received these awards, I am only one member of the State of Mind Family and the CRSI Family and it is these inspiring and hard-working people who have been there at the beginning and who have worked tirelessly over the years carrying out presentations and research, attending and presenting at conferences, taking the SOMI Pledge, delivering psycho-education lessons and psychotherapy to those who the most vulnerable in our communities who are the real heroes and recipients of these awards. 

We are a Team and we always move as one, so these accolades are first and foremost for my brother Martin, for the Team and for myself and for everyone who supports us. 

What advice do you have for students as they get ready for a career

  • Believe in yourself! There is only one of you in this world and no matter how hard someone else’s tries to emulate you they will never be you. Trust in yourself and carry out every task with integrity and respect. 
  • Ask for help! Go to those who have been there before – the Professor, the lecturers, the surrounding staff, and your Supervisors (Academic and Clinical) will have gone down the road many times before you so ask them for advice. No-one ever died from asking a question and everyone in the college is there to help you on your journey, they will steer you in the right direction. 
  • Don’t try to fit into a box, create your own and stay true to yourself! Rome wasn’t built in a day so give yourself a break on the days that you aren’t feeling 100%. Things will work out as they are meant to in the end but nothing worth having comes easy and hard work always pays off! 

If you want to learn more about the work State of Mind Ireland does check out their website

You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.