Niall Bressie Breslin on stage with the Blizzards.

‘I’ve never been prouder to be a Mullingar man’

Mullingar Chamber and its newest member Niall Breslin will host a mental health seminar in the coming months for local businesses and the wider community.

The mental health advocate and musician and the chamber may not seem like natural bedfellows, but as a proud Mullingar man, Bressie says he is delighted to join and to be a force for positive change in his home town.

“I have known Johnny [Geoghegan] a long time and the work he has done with the chamber is immensely impressive. In Ireland we are good at talking about things but not so good at acting on them. I think Johnny has put a spark into it [the chamber].

“Over the last year, I have never been prouder to be a Mullingar man. When I went to the fleadh I’d never seen anything like it. I am incredibly connected to the town in many different ways. My family all still live there, but it is my home and always will be. I just wanted to see if there was anything I could do in my work to help Johnny and the chamber drive forward in what they are doing.”

Currently doing a PhD on psycho-social intervention, Bressie says that because of decades of underinvestment by successive governments, community groups and charities have had to try and fill the gaps in the mental health system. He believes in community based early intervention.

“Unfortunately, we have a crisis system, we don’t have a health system. We wait until people get to crisis and then we intervene. It’s expensive economically, it’s expensive humanly.

“There are things that we can do. It has to be driven by business, because businesses have resources. A lot of the non-profits, one of which I founded – Lust for Life – we’ve reached nearly 50,000 primary school students around the country.

“There is no reason Mullingar can’t do its own thing and develop supports systems and education [programmes]. The most effective form of care is community care. Peer to peer social support.

“We all have the power to do that and the chamber can help drive that. What I see in my work is people who care about it, but bureaucracy gets in the way, ego gets in the way. This has to be collective. It will save lives. When you put the right systems in place, you will save people’s lives.”

Bressie says the chamber and business community can help to improve things and help build on the work done by organisations such as Good2Talk. They can also use their influence to lobby politicians to improve the mental health system.

“You look at communities and there are a few groups who have a key influence, the business [community] is one. The chamber have a proactive approach and we should really tap in to that and reach out to local businesses and ask ‘what can we do?’.

“There are things like the mental first aid, an effective programme, that every company could roll out so their employees could spot signs. There are many other proactive things that can be done.

“What I would like to do is sit down with the chamber and bring in people who work in psychology, psychotherapy and health systems. I’m not into talking shops – if we bring people down, we have a duty of care to try to implement action.”

Bressie says that as a member of the chamber, he would also be an advocate for Mullingar’s thriving music and arts scenes.

“They [the arts and music sectors] are not supported enough. We have the most incredible musicians and artists in the town. It blows me away. Our town is known for a lot of things, but one of the main things it’s known for is arts and culture.

“It’s a tough industry. Arts and culture also have a profound impact on people’s wellbeing. If we had to go through that pandemic again and I told you that you had no access to arts and culture – the writers on Netflix, the music you listen to, the podcasts you listen to – do you think we’d have got through it?”

Outgoing Mullingar Chamber president John Geoghegan says they are delighted to have Bressie join. “It’s part of broadening the appeal of Mullingar Chamber. We approached Niall to see if he would join as a member.

“He’s one of the leading advocates in the mental health space in Ireland and he has achieved an awful lot in that.

“He has a huge level of awareness of mental health in Ireland – a chronic issue at the moment. Locally, suicide and mental health is a big issue.

“We are delighted to have him as a member and as a local stakeholder in Mullingar and Westmeath. It means a lot to me as the outgoing president that we are getting the likes of him to come in and broaden our membership base.

“We’d like to continue this and support mental health initiatives in any way we can.”