Our fight will go on
One of the organisers of an upcoming mental health protest on Wexford Bridge said the campaign for improved facilities in County Wexford will not stop until the HSE provides an adequate after-hours service.
'I think the HSE and the Government believe that we are going to kick up a fuss for a while and go away but I have no intention of going anywhere,' said Colette Nolan of Ferns whose older brother Tom (48) took his own life in July 2013 after his cry for help went unanswered.
The Wexford Fight for Acute 24-Hour Mental Health Services Campaign comprising Colette and Cllr. David Hynes, Orla Curtin and Tanya Fenlon, is holding a protest at Wexford Bridge, the scene of many tragic suicides in the past, on Saturday, June 11 at 2 p.m. with a view to holding similar demonstrations on New Ross and Enniscorthy bridges and in Gorey on future dates.
'When it boils down to it, it's a question of money and resources,' said Colette, accusing the HSE of reneging on the promises made in 'A Vision for Change', the Government strategy document launched in 2006 which preceded the closure of St. Senan's Psychiatric Hospital.
'A total of 8.5% of the health budget was to be spent on mental health. Ten years on, we're still at 6%,' she said.
Colette believes mental health is still not taken as seriously as it should be. 'It's not seen as a priority because, in my opinion, if someone suffers a mental health problem and they eventually take their own life, they're not a problem for the HSE anymore. Unfortunately, they're a statistic.'
'People who suffer from mental health issues don't have the strength to stand up and say this is not right. They can't fight for what they need but yet, they're crying out for help,' she said.
Since the closure of St. Senan's Psychiatric Hospital, the acute mental health admissions unit for County Wexford is at Waterford Regional Hospital or Newcastle Hospital in County Wicklow, often following an initial assessment by a SCAN (Suicide Crisis Assessment) nurse at the A&E department in Wexford General Hospital.
'But if someone presents at the A&E in Wexford Hospital after 5 p.m., they will be told there is no 24-hour psychiatric service in Wexford,' said Colette.
'Depending on your condition, they will talk to you and will then consult over the phone with a psychiatrist in Waterford and if it's deemed necessary you will then have to go through A&E in Waterford,' she said.
'And when you get to Waterford, supposing you have a way of getting there, you could be sent home just as quick.'
Teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 years appear to be left in limbo and are not psychiatrically assessed even during day-time hours at the A&E in Wexford General Hospital because there is no adolescent assessment unit there.
'If you present at the A&E with a 17-year old who has tried to take their own life, the child will be medically treated but there are no wards for them - they are too old for a children's ward and too young for an adult ward. You will be told to take them home and watch them around the clock. There is a gap of two years that you can slip through,' said Colette.
'There is no SCAN nurse for children, only adults. There is no acute service for children.'.
'The Self-Harm Intervention Programme (SHIP) which offers counselling to teenagers who have self-harmed, runs from 9 am to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday.'
'What was supposed to happen was that Wexford people would get adequate care in Waterford, but to get into Waterford you have to jump through hoops,' she said.
'The Caredoc service was supposed to be able to get you assessed by a SCAN nurse but the only county that's happening in is Roscommon'
Colette's brother Tom of Cherryorchard, Enniscorthy was brought to Wexford General Hospital after he took an overdose on July 15 2013. He was discharged the following day with no referral for counselling.
'He was treated medically and assessed by the SCAN nurse who asked him if he intended to harm himself. He said no and they let him home. Over the next eight or nine days we had him at the GP and we tried to get him into counselling. On July 24, he went to the counselling service 'It's Good to Talk'. They refused to let him out of the office because he wouldn't give an assurance that he wouldn't harm himself. He was brought to A&E in Wexford Hospital and was assessed again by a SCAN nurse who consulted over the phone with a psychiatrist in Waterford. Even though I asked them to get a bed for him in Waterford, I was told there was no bed available.'
'He was discharged again on July 24 as they considered he wasn't a risk to his own life.'
The following day, Tom was found dead in his blazing car on Oulart Hill in a tragedy that is still painfully raw with his family.
'I think if he had got help, I wouldn't be as hurt or as annoyed but the fact that he didn't get the help that he was crying out for. If he still went and took his own life after getting help, I could have said at least he tried.'
'That is just one of the very many stories that are out there in Wexford. It's a common occurrence' said Colette.
'The majority of services in Wexford are nine to five, five days a week - Carn House in Enniscorthy operates nine to five seven days a week but you have to have an appointment. Depression is more likely to affect people at night, when you are lying in bed unable to sleep, with thoughts popping into your head and panic setting in.'
According to Colette, there is an 18-month waiting list for follow-up services for young clients of CAMHS, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service based in Arnold House where the consultant psychiatrist position is a temporary post.
'Some children have to be medicated while waiting for services such as counselling, art therapy and play therapy. They're medicating kids that don't need medication, they need treatment and follow-up services.'
Colette commended the voluntary support and counselling services in County Wexford including Touched by Suicide in Enniscorthy which receives no State funding whatsoever and Talk to Tom in Gorey but said they are being taken advantage of by the HSE.
'They're taking up the slack for their shortcomings', she said.