The 'Facing Change' exhibition features 10 portraits of inspiring people from the four corners of Ireland. Genio commissioned Ruth Medjber to take the portraits, whose work has been exhibited extensively in Ireland as well as internationally. She worked with each person to identify a location that is meaningful to them and, where possible, provided them with a remote-controlled trigger which enabled them to have as much agency over the process as possible and take their own picture. View the interactive gallery below for a closer look at the photos and to read each person's story.

“I really want people to know it’s okay not to be okay. I’m putting myself out there, my mental health out there for everybody to know about it, so that other young people can feel okay about it too. Now I’m sitting at the table with the HSE helping to design mental health services for young people in Donegal.” - Anthony Foy

Anthony is a typical teenager who loves soccer, rap music and tattoos. He has experienced mental health difficulties since his early teens. He struggled in school and spent some time in a mental health unit in a Galway hospital. By the time he finished school he had stopped leaving the house and became very isolated and withdrawn. He eventually connected with local youth mental health services and this has helped him build his confidence and community connections. He has started soccer training and hopes to join the local team. Anthony is passionate about encouraging people to talk about mental health and wants to use his experience to help others. A youth mental health strategy is being developed for Donegal county with support from the HSE and Genio (through the Service Reform Fund). This is a youth-led initiative, which has successfully brought people from across communities and professions together. Anthony is a member of this group and is helping to identify and develop appropriate youth mental health supports in the local area. He is also being supported by the HSE to train in peer mentoring so that he can help other young people going through similar experiences.


“Accessing peer support in the community really made a massive, massive difference to my life, it actually really did start my recovery. I believe it’s moving on from your diagnosis, building a new, better and stronger life for yourself. Slowly but surely, building up your confidence and knowledge and above all realising that YOU have something to offer.” - Mary O’Sullivan

Mary is very open, friendly and intelligent. She did exceptionally well in school but experienced significant mental health challenges from her late teens. These challenges meant her time in university was cut short. She spent a number of years struggling with her health and unable to engage in work or education. The first step on her recovery journey was when she joined the Kerry Peer Support Network in 2013, funded by the HSE and Genio. “It provides a place for people to come to that there’s no professionals present. That was always a very strong point from the beginning, that there wouldn’t be professionals present and that it would be obviously people who have been through the system themselves. I mean it was initially run for six weeks and it’s six years now it’s still going.” Meeting other people from her community experiencing mental health challenges helped Mary build her confidence and made her realise she was not alone. She started to pursue an education in mental health support and facilitation. She also began to sit on HSE service user panels and recovery education committees. In 2016, she was successful in becoming a paid HSE Peer Support Worker and she brings a wealth of experience and empathy to her role in supporting others. “There is no way 5 years ago that I could have imagined myself doing this and feeling this confident. Any day can be a challenge, but in this there is growth. I have discovered a new life.”


“The first thing we were told when my mam got her diagnosis of dementia, was that she should be in a nursing home. To be quite honest if I put my mam in a nursing home she would not be here today. Without a doubt I know for a fact she would have been long gone. Now she’s continuing to enjoy her life and enjoy her grandchildren. And she turned 70 in October and the outlook is good.” - Orla, Irene’s daughter

Irene is warm and welcoming and always has time for a cup of tea and a chat. Irene was diagnosed with vascular dementia in 2012. She was referred to a hospital consultant who ran a basic cognitive test. Irene’s daughter Orla describes how, “He sat me down and he said, ‘right I think your mam may have dementia’. That basically she shouldn’t be living at home, she should be in a nursing home. This was all based on this one test. He’d never met my mam before. I mean she was still driving her car, living on her own and had her independence. I just felt it was a bit harsh because I knew she wasn’t that bad. I felt quite hurt and alone at that moment because I didn’t know where to go from there.” Eventually Irene was referred to the Holly Day ward in Connolly Hospital, which had developed supports for people with dementia as part of the HSE & Genio Dementia Programme. Orla describes how “seeing the doctor and then seeing the nurse, Susan, they both showed an awful lot of care and attention towards my mam. Towards me as a person being a family member. There was no mention of a nursing home.” Irene continues to live independently, with support, and enjoys spending time with her family and friends.


“I was nearly 40 years in hospital. Now that I’m living in my own home again, there’s more freedom. I only moved in the summer so I’m getting used to it and getting to know people. I go into town and have a cup of tea and place a bet. My first love ever was cycling. I rode in the 3-day tour of Ulster in 1963 so my favourite coffee shop is part of a bike shop in town. Everyone says hello to me when I walk in.” - Joe Kerrigan

In his youth, Joe loved cycling and rugby. He has a dry wit, loves company and is an entertaining story teller. He spent three years living in Canada where he trained as an electrician. He returned to Ireland and had a family but began to experience significant mental health difficulties. He has been living in mental health institutions, hospitals and hostels for the past four decades. Last year, he was supported by the HSE and Genio (through the Service Reform Fund), to move into his own home in the community where he receives daily medical and occupational support. He is happy to have left the hospital, but it is a huge change and only the start of a new journey for Joe. He is making connections in the community. He is getting to grips with organising his own meals. He goes to town every day for tea and occasionally to place a bet. Every second person he passes seems to know him and greets him by name. He dreams of one day returning to his home town in Meath.


“Mar was 18 and I was 19 when we got married. We always laugh that we were two hippies. I was into art, but she has the eye for design and made our house a home. It’s six years now since her diagnosis. It’s hard, it’s very hard. We get 15 hours a week practical support at home now which helps. Another lady comes in twice a week to spend time with Marion, which she loves. It’s a struggle, but home is home no matter what. I want to keep her here with me as long as possible.” - Ronnie, Marion’s husband

Marion is vibrant and caring and her husband Ronnie adores her. They brought up their four children in the heart of Galway city, surrounded by art and culture. They enjoyed life to the full. Marion was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago and life for Marion and Ronnie changed. Although Marion is still living at home, she has lost a lot of her independence and Ronnie retired early from his job to care for her fulltime. In the last year, Marion has received a dementia-specific homecare package through an HSE pilot scheme, with support from Genio. This means that Marion has someone who comes to her home to provide personalised supports 3 hours a day, five days a week. This has helped her maintain some independence and to continue living at home. Ronnie can spend some time being her husband rather than fulltime carer. Marion and Ronnie continue to enjoy art and design and they are working on a painting together, when Marion feels up to it. She loves spending time with her children and grandchildren and to chat with friends over cups of tea. There are many challenges ahead, but personalised homecare has meant that Marion can be supported in her own home with Ronnie for as long as possible.


“I was living in a hospital for almost a decade. I was the youngest by about 30 years and I had no one to talk to. I struggled for years to get the opportunity to move to my own home and finally moved last summer. Things are better but there’s still lots of challenges every day. I’m well able to speak up for myself though and now I’m helping give other people with disabilities a voice.” - Shane Rothwell

Shane is strong, independent, funny and always has a twinkle in his eye. He has physical disabilities which require 24/7 support. His ability to live in his own home in the community was often underestimated. He advocated for years to get his own place and finally, with support from the HSE and Genio, he moved to his own apartment in the summer of 2018. Shane is glad to have his own space and be able to make decisions about his own life, even things as simple as what to have for dinner or when to have a cup of tea. This is only the start of the journey for Shane however. Every day can feel like a challenge, whether it’s trying to get access to the park across the road from his apartment, where the entrance is too small for his wheelchair; or secure a parking space for his disability van. Shane is a champion for others who are also seeking to leave institutional care and move to their own home. He recognises that he is lucky that he can speak and advocate on his own behalf, but others cannot. Champions like Shane are critical in demonstrating what’s possible and create momentum for change.


“My mum grew up by the sea in Kerry. She loves the sea. She moved to Dublin when she was 17 and worked in the Revenue Commissioners all her life. When she retired, I started to notice a difference. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year and it was a big shock. We were given a dementia homecare package however and it’s been amazing. The girl comes to the house 13 hours a week. Just having a few hours is brilliant. It’s personalised to what my mum needs every day. Before that, sometimes I’d come from work and she hadn’t eaten anything. She always looked after her grandkids after school and now she is being supported to continue doing this, three days a week.” - Paula, Catherine’s daughter

Catherine is stylish and softly spoken. She had a busy career in the Revenue. She loved her work and loved the people she worked with. In 2018, she was diagnosed with dementia (Alzheimer’s). Her daughter Paula is the primary family carer. The HSE with support from Genio provided a dementia-specific homecare package as part of their programme to develop personalised, community-based services for people with dementia. For Paula, this support has meant that the family can come to terms with Catherine’s diagnosis and establish a routine that maintains Catherine in her home and community life, in so far as is possible. This support also helps Catherine to continue caring for her grandchildren, who she adores, after school. If Catherine was in a nursing home she would be receiving 24/7 professional support and be at risk of becoming isolated from her friends and community where she has lived for decades.


“Bernie is really availing of everything the community has to offer. She’s a very outgoing, bubbly personality and she loves meeting new people and telling them her news. She’s actually volunteering in the local St Vincent de Paul shop. This is part of the plan to develop her CV and experience the workplace and that’s going extremely well for her and she’s very excited.” - Christina Irwin, Area Manager, Mayo Community Living

Bernie is very positive, friendly and loves to have the chats. She lived in institutional care for decades where opportunities were limited largely to facilities within a disability campus setting. “I came from Áras Attracta. I didn’t like it. Because [there were] too many people in it.” In 2018, she moved to her own home in Ballina with two friends, with support from the HSE and Genio (through the Service Reform Fund). For the first time, she is experiencing life as a member of the local community, getting the opportunity to make decisions for herself and demonstrate her potential and ability. When she was in Áras Attracta food was delivered from a central kitchen, so she never saw food prepared. She never went shopping in a supermarket to choose her own food. Now she has a home with a kitchen where she can see and smell the food being cooked. She is supported to do her own shopping and is taking part in a cookery course. She also joined the local Slimming World group and has already made friends in the community. She loves fashion and her dream is to work in a clothes shop, so she is currently getting work experience by volunteering at a local St. Vincent de Paul shop. Her world has expanded hugely within a year and her future has so much potential.


“Access to opportunities and support in the local community was life-changing for Ruby and our family. It opened up a whole new world for Ruby who previously had little access to social clubs and activities due to her disabilities. She has developed strong friendships in the community and gained independence, as she now goes on the bus without her mam and dad. 10 years ago, these types of support would never have been available in this part of Donegal. As a family we no longer feel alone and have a strong network of support.” - Chrissie, Ruby’s mum

Ruby has a wicked sense of humour, loves listening to music, hanging out with her friends and her most important possession is her phone. She also enjoys helping her Dad and her Uncle out on the farm. Ruby has lived with cerebral palsy all her life and requires 24/7 support. She attends mainstream school where she has a lot of friends but her access to activities outside of school is very restricted. Spraoi agus Spórt provides social and recreational facilities to local families in the Inishowen area of Donegal including after school activities and summer camps. In 2011, they established a social club for children with disabilities with support from the HSE and Genio. Ruby’s parents, Chrissy and Alan, describe how ‘it changed our lives’. Ruby has a social outlet outside of school, which is helping her to thrive and gain some independence. Chrissy and Alan felt isolated and alone for a long time, but through this service they have met other families going through similar experiences and challenges and it has become a lifeline. Spraoi agus Spórt received further funding in 2018 from the Service Reform Fund (HSE and Genio) to develop a programme for teenagers with disabilities and Ruby is working with staff to identify and develop appropriate activities.


“When I was using homeless services, I used to think there weren’t many resources tackling homelessness. You know, hearing things in the news and all, that nothing’s being done. I got my own home a few years ago and since then I joined the Service Reform Fund homelessness committee. I got a good insight into the intrinsic work that is being done. Individuals in government, government agencies and Genio are actually attempting to break down barriers for people who are homeless and develop inter-agency cooperation. I find it very inspiring to be part of.” - Jason Brogan

Jason is articulate and compassionate with a love for fishing. He experienced homelessness for a number of years in Dublin. During this time his confidence and trust in other people plummeted. Fr Peter McVerry (of Peter McVerry Trust) became a consistent presence in Jason’s life and slowly he began to accept help and make changes. Jason finally moved into his own apartment and turned his life around. For the past few years, Jason has been working for the Peter McVerry Trust, providing support to others who experience long-term homelessness and rough-sleeping. He now works with people through a ‘Housing-First’ model, which offers those who have experienced long-term homelessness a chance to have their own home and tailors supports around them to help them maintain their tenancies. He is also directly contributing to and informing the national development and rollout of housing first initiatives through the Service Reform Fund. “I’ll never forget where I was, and I bring that experience with me. Housing- first is powerful. There’s no judgements. It’s meeting the person where they’re at and nurturing positive change. The end goal is to support reintegration to normal living; to offer the best chance to a happy life as possible.”

Complex Systems Change

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Pearse St., Dublin 2, D02 YH27, Ireland
Phone +353 1 707 1700
Email [email protected]