Leaders in Lived Experience

National Mental Health Conference

Mental Health Reform hosted its ‘Leaders in Lived Experience Conference’ in LinkedIn One, Wilton Park, Wilton Place, Dublin 2 on Thursday, 29th February from 9:30am – 2:30pm.

Effective leadership is essential for driving positive change in the mental health sector. The event focused particularly on grassroots leadership, uniting leaders with lived experience of mental health difficulties who have been pivotal in shaping and reforming the mental health system from the ground up.

The conference was co-produced by Mental Health Reform’s Grassroots Forum. This ensured that the event reflected diverse perspectives from individuals deeply connected to the challenges and opportunities in the mental health sector.

The conference featured keynote speakers, panel discussions and thematic workshops to encourage discussion and meaningful action. Attendees had the opportunity to engage with a wide range of experts, learn about the latest research and best practices, and connect with like-minded individuals from across the mental health community.


Event MC:     Brianna Parkins, Journalist

9.30 – 10.00    Registration/Tea and Coffee

10.00 – 10.15   Opening Address

  • Fiona Coyle, CEO, Mental Health Reform

Session 1 – Reimagining Youth Mental Health

The World Health Organisation recognises mental health as one of the main health issues affecting young people. Recent reports highlight the need for key reforms to improve mental health services for children and young people. This session will provide an opportunity to rethink and reimagine Ireland’s approach to youth mental health. Speakers will discuss the potential of reform and innovation to transform mental health care for children and young people and protect the mental health of future generations.

10.15 – 10.30    Keynote Speaker 1    Tammy Donaghy, Mental Health Advocate

10.30 – 11.15    Panel 1

Moderator: Fiona Coyle, CEO, Mental Health Reform

  • Daragh Fleming, Author and Mental Health Campaigner
  • Hannah Ní Ghiolla Mhairtín, Founder, Families for Reform of CAMHS
  • Rory Sloan, Mental Health Advocate

11.15 – 11.30      Break

Session 2 – Leading Change Through Lived Experience

Our national mental health policy, Sharing the Vision recognises that mental health services must be truly centred on the people who use them and supportive of their recovery. To achieve this, people with lived experience should play a key role in the design, delivery and reform of mental health services. This session will explore how policy makers and service providers can harness the power of lived experience to challenge stigma, improve access and ensure the delivery of inclusive and effective mental health services.

11.30 – 11.45     In Conversation: Niall Breslin, Academic and Author, and Ciara Glynn, Peer Support Worker, HSE Mental Health

11.45 – 12.30     Panel 2

Moderator: Jennifer Hough, Human Rights and Social Justice Advocate

  • John Coonan, Grassroots Forum Member
  • Sharon Lane, Chairperson, Reference Group of the National Implementation and Monitoring Committee for Sharing the Vision
  • Catherine Brogan, President, Mental Health Europe

12.30 – 12.35     Event Close: Michael Ryan, Head of Mental Health Engagement and Recovery, HSE Mental Health Operations

12.35 – 13.35     Lunch

13.35 – 14.35     Parallel Workshops

Meet the Speakers

Brianna Parkins, Journalist

Brianna Parkins is a broadcast journalist. She currently writes for The Irish Times, and can be heard on Newstalk, Today FM and RTÉ. Born in Australia, Brianna has lived in Ireland for the past five years.

Tammy Donaghy, Mental Health Advocate

Tammy Donaghy is a 24 year old Youth mental health advocate from Finglas. She currently sits on the board of the mental health commission, appointed by the minister for mental health. As well as this she is on the board of directors for Jigsaw, the national centre for youth mental health. She has experience of working with, or advocating for, young people at many levels. She is a youth worker and also has a masters in comparative criminology and criminal justice and does freelance advocacy work. Tammy is passionate about youth mental health due to her own lived experiences engaging in mental health systems as well as seeing the lack of support for people from socioeconomically disadvantaged areas such as the one she grew up in and her experiences of being a care experienced person. She has committed herself to fighting for better opportunity’s and a better future for all who engage with mental health service and for all.

Daragh Fleming, Author and Mental Health Campaigner

Daragh Fleming is a writer and mental health speaker from Cork, Ireland. His debut in non-fiction, Lonely Boy, is a collection of essays on mental health which was published in 2022. He was recently highly commended for the Patrick Kavanagh Award and has been longlisted for the Cúirt New Irish Writing Prize in 2022 and 2023, Daragh has given TEDx Talks on poetry and mental health, and is often invited to speak at universities and festivals. His work is widely published in literary magazines. Daragh also runs the award winning mental health blog, Thoughts Too Big and is Head of Content with A Lust For Life. His next collection of essays is due for release in 2025 with Broken Sleep Books.

Hannah Ní Ghiolla Mhairtín, Founder, Families for Reform of CAMHS

Hannah Ní Ghiolla Mhairtín is the founder of Families for Reform of CAMHS. The group was set up in May of last year and is now made up of over 940 families across Ireland calling for the urgent reform of the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The group has presented at Leinster House a number of times and was recently invited to speak at a dedicated session of the Health Committee. They have recently launched their newest email campaign focusing on the need for regulation of CAMHS.

Rory Sloan, Mental Health Advocate

Rory Sloan, a 23-year-old from Belfast, faced a chaotic journey battling substance abuse and mental health issues since the age of 14. Struggling with addiction and entangled in the drug scene, his life took a dark turn, leading to time in prison. However, upon his release, Rory made a remarkable turnaround, achieving ten months of sobriety and dedicating himself to advocacy. As a One Young World leader, he courageously shared his story with audiences of up to 400 people, including Princess Anne, to raise awareness about addiction and mental health. Rory leverages social media to disseminate his experiences and insights, aiming to support and educate young individuals facing similar challenges. Driven by a deep-seated passion, he aspires to become a beacon of hope and guidance for youth navigating the dangers life of addiction, determined to shed light on its dangers and offer support to those in need.

Ciara Glynn, Peer Support Worker, HSE Mental Health

Ciara is a peer support worker and was part of the first cohort of peer support workers, which is a new graded staff, that was employed by the HSE in 2017. She has been working in the HSE on a community mental health team for almost 7 years now. Ciara joined the Mental Health Reform Board in 2023.

Niall Breslin, Academic and Author

Niall Breslin is one of Ireland’s most formidable and inspiring mental health advocates and public speakers. Currently undertaking his PhD, Niall holds an MSc in mindfulness-based interventions. His personal experience has informed his journey to becoming a leading figure in mindfulness for individuals and organisations. Niall’s passion and drive for de-stigmatising mental health, particularly amongst young people, propelled him to co-found the award-winning mental health charity “A Lust for Life”. In addition to writing his award-winning memoir “Me and My Mate Jeffrey” Niall has also authored a best-selling children’s book series “Magic Moments” which further promotes and educates children on mindfulness, emotions and mental health.

Jennifer Hough, Human Rights and Social Justice Advocate

Jennifer is a passionate advocate for mental health, social justice and human rights and for advancing understanding of how these issues intersect. Having spent 10 years working as a journalist, she changed career to work in policy and advocacy in the NGO sector. She currently works for Alcohol Action Ireland where she highlights the impact of alcohol on mental health, children's rights and wider society, among other things. She firmly believes that Ireland needs a radical shift in how it deals with mental health and that trauma-informed, human-rights based services are long overdue. She is also a founding member of the Mad in Ireland team, which is part a global network of websites giving voice to the need for a new paradigm for mental health care.

John Coonan, Grassroots Forum Member

John Coonan is an experienced peer support specialist and researcher with the Peter McVerry Trust. He holds a BSocSc (Hons) in Sociology, Social Policy and Social Justice and an MSc in Public Policy, both from University College Dublin. His personal experience with homelessness, combined with an academic background, allows him to provide insightful and practical support to participants, as well as contribute to various research projects.

Sharon Lane, Chairperson, Reference Group of the National Implementation and Monitoring Committee for Sharing the Vision

Sharon Lane is the chairperson of the Reference Group of the National Implementation and Monitoring Committee for Sharing the Vision, a mental health policy that aims to improve the quality of life and well-being of people with mental health conditions in Ireland. Her primary focus is to amplify the voice and influence of service users in policy design, delivery and evaluation. For over three decades Sharon has worked across community, disability and mental health services in government and non-government roles in Ireland and Australia where she has developed extensive experience in the design and delivery of innovative, evidence based service models for people with mental health and disability support needs. She is passionate about systemic change that promotes recovery, empowerment and mental health supports that are firmly grounded in a human rights based approach.

Catherine Brogan, President, Mental Health Europe

Catherine is the President Mental Health Europe and Chair, National Implementation and Monitoring Committee Sharing the Vision, Irelands Mental Health Policy. Catherine believes strongly in the power of coproduction and is passionate about recovery and what can be achieved through having the centrality of lived experience integral to service design and delivery. In a voluntary capacity Catherine in 2001 co -founded and co-ordinates Turas Le Cheile which provides support for those bereaved including those bereaved by suicide and the provision of Psychological First Aid to communities in the aftermath of tragic incidents. Catherine represents MHI on the Board of Mental Health Europe. She is also a Director of Alcohol Action Ireland & H.U.G.G. (Healing Untold Grief Groups) and the NGO representative on the Connecting for Life Cross Sectoral Interdepartmental Steering Group.


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