Mentally ill forced to turn to guards

By david looby

Published 10/09/2016 | 00:00

Colette Nolan outside the derelict St Senan's Psychiatric Hospital in Enniscorthy
Colette Nolan outside the derelict St Senan's Psychiatric Hospital in Enniscorthy
Wexford Chief Superintendent John Roche

WEXFORD gardaí are dealing with three times the number of mental health calls than they were in 2010 and almost double the number of mental health calls since St Senan's Psychiatric Hospital closed in early 2013.

New figures revealed by a senior Wexford garda show how in the first eight months of 2010 gardaí attended 40 mental health call outs in the county. In the first eight months of 2012 there were 60 calls, but in the first eight months of 2016, Wexford gardaí had been dispatched to 108 call outs to assist in mental health incidents. When contacted about the issue, Chief Superintendent John Roche said gardaí are called to assist and detain people for their own safety and wellbeing under the Mental Health Treatment Act.

These often relate to people who are after having a domestic dispute with a family member and to people who have suicidal or self harm ideation.

In 2015 there were 500 domestic abuse calls Wexford gardaí had to attend across the county. Supt Roche said these range from minor disputes, including shouting, to serious assaults. Often a family member would contact gardaí out of concern for a loved one. Substance abuse is also a factor.

Supt Roche said: 'We have seen an increase in calls and this is impacting on us as we have to detain the person for a period of time at the station until the doctor makes an assessment and examines them. If they are unfit to be released back to their family we have to accompany them to either the Department of Psychiatry at University Hospital Waterford if they are coming from the south of the county or Newcastle hopsital in County Wicklow if they are in the north part of County Wexford.'

Gardaí are often called to Wexford General Hospital's Accident & Emergency Department and to people's homes to help people who are in severe mental distress.

'It's the elephant in the room. Also there is a training issue as we are not psychiatric nurses.'

The county's policing force currently stands at 267, a slight improvement on recent years. Since May 2015 when the first tranche of new recruits joined the Wexford garda ranks, around 24 probationary gardaí have come on stream, but in this time there have been nine retirements of experienced gardaí and three guards have resigned.

The last of the residential patients accommodated in St Senan's Psychiatric Hospital left the old building by mid-March, 2013, but patient numbers were reduced dramatically in 2012.

For more than a century and a half, the hospital was the centre of psychiatric care for people with mental difficulties in County Wexford. The red-brick St Senan's complex in Brownswood was closed and in its place new community care centres were built in three locations - two a short distance away on the other side of the Slaney from the hospital at Carn House and Tus Nua and one close to Wexford General Hospital, Farnóg Nua in Wexford.

Mental health activist Colette Nolan said Wexford people suffering from mental health issues are being taken to garda stations because there is no acute unit in the county following the closure of St Senan's Psychiatric Hospital.

Ms Nolan, who has been campaigning for better mental health services in County Wexford ever since her brother Thomas was 'let down' by the region's mental health system and took his own life in 2013. Ms Nolan said: 'I brought a couple of people to St Senan's when it was open. They would knock on the door and be seen straight away and now these people are having to be brought to garda stations to be assessed which isn't right.'

Ms Nolan said it is unacceptable that gardaí should have to 'take up the slack' because of the lack of an acute mental health unit in the county. 'I am in contact with a lot of voluntary groups in Wexford and they are also taking up the slack for the HSE. It's shocking to see how many people have died by suicide in the county since the closure of St Senan's. We have the third highest suicide rate nationally.'

Describing St Senan's as a lifeline for people suffering from mental health problems and their families, Ms Nolan said she visited the facility on the outskirts of Enniscorthy in mid-August and was shocked to see how dilapidated it has become. 'All the wards were boadred up on the ground floor including St Clares. Fair enough it wasn't fit for purpose but for all of the horror stories you would hear out of St Senan's you would also hear people saying that only for St Senan's they wouldn't be alive.'

She said the hospital was never replaced.

'When Vision for Change was on the table it was never implemented correctly. The community services were supposed to be walk-in but you need a certificate from your doctor. The main problem remains that we have no acute psychiatric unit in County Wexford and there are no extra nurses there at University Hospital Waterford to deal with the Wexford people who travel to be cared for there.

'People are left with no option but to go to the guards as if a loved one is threatening to take their own life at 2 a.m. you are not going to call an ambulance as it could take two hours, When a garda car can be at your house in 15 minutes. People are brought to hospital in Waterford and they are sectioned but are left out after a short time having been seen by a psychiatric nurse. They and their families are then forcibly removed from the building even though there is a danger of the person taking their own life. This puts a huge stress on families. St Senan's was massively important for the county and we need a unit for people in crisis.'

Wexford People

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