Lewis Sloan, Features Editor
It is no secret that the mental health of people in Northern Ireland leaves a lot to be desired. Almost half of young people here say they have experienced a mental health problem such as depression or anxiety. Those alarming statistics, published in a report by the Prince’s Trust last month, sent shockwaves through the country. The response was unanimous: something needs to change.
This follows a previous report from the Mental Health Foundation and the Royal College of Psychiatrists which found that more people died of suicide in Northern Ireland after 1998 (approx. 4,400) than during the troubles (approx. 3,600). This gives NI the highest suicide rate in the UK.
One young man from Omagh has set out on a mission to combat this prevalence of mental health issues in Northern Ireland. Mark Quinn, a recent graduate of Digital Media Communication at the University of Ulster and English and Film Studies at Queen’s, developed the concept of a social media campaign to “create a more positive online experience for all” in January 2017. In June of that year, ‘The Happiness Scrapbook’ was born.
“I have found social media to be one of the most negative impacts on mental health – particularly for people my age”, says Quinn, 23. “Accepting the fact that it is unlikely to go away, I decided to do something about it and create a more positive atmosphere online – for all.”
“I have loved travelling around and taking people’s photos but I am most grateful and encouraged by people’s answers. Of course a pattern begins to develop with responses but what I love most is getting a quote that is so unique and personal it surprises me. I am immensely proud of how the project has grown and how much happiness I have gained – and hopefully created along the way!”
Following in the footsteps of photography projects such as ‘Humans of New York‘, but adding his own unique twist, Mark speaks to neighbours and friends of all ages in his native Omagh, as well as strangers he meets on his travels, most recently around the USA. He asks them one question: what makes you happy? The beaming faces of the people he interviews, and their uplifting and often idiosyncratic answers, offer a beacon of hope in a sometimes depressing online scene.
The Happiness Scrapbook, which has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram has been gaining attention in the media. Cool FM and the BBC have taken notice of Mark’s mission.
While there remains a lot of work to be done to combat the widespread mental health problems in Northern Ireland, projects like Mark’s offer a glimmer of optimism in a dark time.
If you would like to add some uplifting content to your newsfeed, or simply need a pick me up on a low day, follow The Happiness Scrapbook on social media or keep up to date with Mark’s travels on his website. Enjoy some examples from the project below.