Tell us about your field of work:
I work as a Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Lead in the public health service, a lecturer in Clinical Psychology, and a researcher in digital mental health at NUIG. I was previously based at Stanford University Suicide Prevention Research Lab as a visiting research fellow, and I am due to travel (family in tow!) to Florida State University for 3 months to further my work on the use of AI in suicide prevention as a Fulbright / HRB HealthImpact Scholar.
What does wellness mean to you?
Wellness, to me, means living in a way that is aligned with what you value. Knowing what’s important to you -what gives your life a sense of meaning and purpose -and actively focusing your efforts in that direction. For me, family and contribution are key. I have three boys, and my husband and I would hope that we are passing on our value of contributing to the wider community and society to them. The events of the last two years have brought ideas like Moral Injury into common parlance and highlight the emotional impact of engaging in actions that in some way validate your own moral code or go against your deeply held values. By making sure that the work I’m involved in aligns with my values, I can reduce my stress, increase my motivation, and maximize the quality of my engagement.
How does your work promote wellness in the community?
A collaborative project that I am particularly proud of is the SafePlan project. SafePlan was developed, designed and tested here in Galway. Young people, clinicians, researchers and computer scientists worked together to develop a mobile app which allows people to save and record their safety plan on a mobile device. A safety plan is a plan that a person develops with a healthcare provider when they find themselves experiencing high levels of emotional distress. It has been found to be an effective and acceptable way of reducing risk in an emotional crisis. With the support of the National Office for Suicide Prevention, SafePlan is now part of a research trial to guide future roll-out.
What is your remedy for when you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to realign yourself?
Personally, I find water to be incredibly restorative. Whether I’m walking by, swimming in, or simply hearing the sea, I am continually amazed at its impact on my wellbeing. While those of us living in the West of Ireland have intuitively known this for a long time, it’s wonderful to see good quality research in this area validating this felt experience even further. BlueHealth researchers are observing that people with better access to attractive, safe and inclusive blue spaces -such as beaches – enjoy higher psychological well-being, with particular benefits for those living in deprived urban areas. Making our beautiful coastline safe and placing barriers at high-risk points remains one of the most effective suicide prevention interventions.
What is needed to promote a greater understanding of wellness in our world?
I think it starts at an individual level. Knowing, understanding, and developing the skills to regulate one’s own emotional state is key to being able to support wellbeing in others. Knowledge is key to this. The internet has democratized knowledge greatly so that good quality psychological knowledge and research is now more accessible than ever before. Well-established and reliable websites such as yourmentalhealth.ie are a great place to start.
Dr Ruth Melia, BA, MSc, DClinPsych
Senior Clinical Psychologist/Clinical Lead