Just the ticket!
If you were anywhere near the election campaign trails recently, you may have noticed a loud, colourful bus weaving its way around the country’s roads. The double-decker was full of young people ready to invite politicians and the public to ‘Get on Board’ and bring youth mental health into focus.
On the road
“It’s great that I had the opportunity to do this,” Fianna Fail leader Micheál Martin said before leaving the bus. “I think it has been the most impactful campaign of the election. This is the one that stood out… fundamentally, it affects people.”
Communication executive Amy Colgan explained that Get On Board came about when four organisations with a common concern got together before the general election. ReachOut.com, Foróige, BelongTo and Headstrong decided they’d make a joint effort to push young people’s mental health to the forefront of the political agenda.
Creating a plan
A positive strategy was devised which aimed at making plenty of noise around the issue. “We wanted to get people talking – and we wanted to make this something that people would be glad to support. We had a serious message and wanted to say this is what’s happening. You can do something about it.” Amy said.
A website was to be central to the campaign. “We needed the site to do a lot of things” she said. “It had to be easy to use, strike the right tone and give the right message. Most of all, it had to empower young people to do something.”
The moment getonboard.ie went live was pivotal to the whole operation. “That was an exciting time, and we’re keen to find a way to keep up the website and how to carry it forward.”
The campaign began by contacting as many would-be TDs as possible, asking for their support and a statement of intent to make youth mental health an issue in the Dáil. Anyone who responded, or who turned up to the bus to discuss the cause was then declared to be ‘On Board’. Their photos were duly displayed, with them holding an oversized ‘I’m on board!’ bus ticket.
“When the candidates started contacting us themselves, we knew we must be doing something right. 192 candidates came on board, which was amazing given the volume of everything else that was going on around us.” continued Amy.
“We met each of the leaders from the three main parties, which was important. There is an urgent need for young people to be given the skills to cope before a problem emerges. The young people we spoke to on the bus were really clued in. All they lack is resources – something can and must be done about that.”
The bus was a beacon for two weeks, and the website lives on, but did Get On Board have an impact on the government’s programme? “We were pleased to see that mental health was given prominence, and that the need for age-appropriate services was asserted. While there wasn’t specific mention of youth mental health, this was definite progress,” said Amy.
“But an important part of it all was engaging young people themselves – because if you change young minds, you change everyone’s: you change the future.”
Published in Y Now magazine, spring 2011.