First Fortnight, Ireland’s only mental health arts festival, today kicks off 10-days of arts events aimed at challenging mental health prejudice and discrimination.

Lady Gaga collaborator and British pop artist Stuart Semple; RTE broadcaster Marian Finucane; athlete David Gillick; filmmakers Peter Sheridan and Lenny Abrahamson and music acts Heathers; Mark Geary; Come On Live Long; Vann Music and Gavin James are among a number of artists taking part in the festival over the coming 10 days.

First Fortnight has gotten under way with the launch of Stuart Semple’s Happy Clouds. These are unique, smiley-faced helium clouds that have been unleashed across Dublin City Centre and, next week, in Cavan town, a region particularly afftected by rising suicide rates. The first of eight performances of Gerard Kelly’s acclaimed play Confusion Boats will also be staged.

The festival will continue with live music, film, theatre and visual arts events staged to create open discussion and understanding of mental health problems, and challenge prejudice and discrimination.

Now in its fifth year, First Fortnight will once again be centred around Dublin’s cultural hub of Temple Bar but will also host visual art events and film screenings in Cork, Cavan, Wicklow, Laois, Limerick, Waterford and Kildare.

The 2014 First Fortnight festival is partnered by Mental Health Reform;, Ireland's youth website; and See Change, the National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership.

Ahead of yesterday’s opening events, First Fortnight co-founder and project manager JP Swaine said: 'This is our most interesting and provocative line up for the festival to date and one which we hope leads to new and interesting reasons for people to talk about mental health.

'Conversations started by ordinary people are the only way we can change the stigma and discrimination that persists in the area of mental health.

'First Fortnight hopes to inspire these conversations through provocative arts events. We are also really delighted that, despite being entirely run by volunteers, we have been able to bring festival events to seven different counties across Ireland this year.'

Dr Shari McDaid, director of Mental Health Reform, added: 'First Fortnight is a great opportunity for people who care about mental health to get together and push for change. We know that mental and emotional distress has increased during the recession and that one in seven people will have experienced a mental health difficulty in the last year. This is why we need to see real improvements in the services available.'

John Saunders, director of See Change, added that the campaign 'is delighted to partner with First Fortnight and bring the message of the festival to cinemas across the country with screenings of 'Silver Linings Playbook' in the hope of sparking a national conversation of the mental health problems that can touch any one of us.'

John Buckley of said: ' is incredibly excited and raring to go for First Fortnight 2014. We've been working for the past nine years on ensuring that young people are resourced to deal with the challenges that life throws at them, particularly around mental health and stigma. We hope to bring a youth vibrancy to this year’s festival and hope to get young people talking and engaging on positive mental health.'

Among the highlights of this year’s festival will be:

British artist’s Stuart Semple’s Happy Clouds – a series of unique, smiley-faced helium clouds that will be unleashed across Dublin City Centre and Cavan town, a region particularly afftected by rising suicide rates

'Over the Bar' - Sports stars, athletes and mental health – Journalist Jim Carroll chairs a panel that will include former Irish soccer international Richie Sadlier and international track and field athlete, David Gillick, to discuss the issue of mental health in the context of the sports world.

Dublin Fringe Festival play Dolls, which examines the female role in soceity, negative personal identities, eating disorders and perceptions. Winner of the Fringe’s inaugural First Fortnight Award.

Lively discussion on mental health services chaired by broadcaster Marian Finucane, No Room at the Inn will see a panel discuss current access to mental health services for people in crisis.

Nationwide screening and post-show Q&A of Silver Linings Playbook – Oscar winning movie starring Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper which will tour venues nationwide.