Sunday 21 January 2018

Mental health in the spotlight at meeting

By David Looby

Event organiser Jane Johnstone
Event organiser Jane Johnstone

INDIGNITY, mental torment and systemic disdain are just some of the feelings people suffering from mental health crises in County Wexford experience, a public meeting heard on Friday night.

A crowd of around 60 people attended the 'We Do Mind' meeting, which was organised by mental health service campaigner Jane Johnstone, at the Horse & Hound hotel in Ballinaboola, to raise awareness about the services available to people undergoing mental health problems in the county.

Independent TD Mick Wallace said the meeting provided an opportunity for him to learn more about what services are available in the county.

He said: 'At this stage most people in Wexford would agree that there are serious challenges there. Most people's feel their needs are not being very well addressed at present. There is a lack of coordination in the whole area and the HSE have left a lot to be desired in how they have dealt with it.'

Deputy Wallace said County Wexford has one of the highest suicide rates nationally and yet receives one of the lowest levels of funding.

He said this was the first meeting on mental health, adding that he plans to work with groups fighting for better mental health services in the county to improve the situation for people.

He outlined international research on mental health pointing out that a British survey found that almost half of the mental health service users in the UK have debt or welfare difficulties.

'It's maddening to see over the last six or seven years that when the challenge was greatest, the cuts were greatest. We are probably failing our children and teenagers worst of all,' he added, pointing out that prevention and early intervention is vital.

He said there is a very strong economic case for providing hospital beds for young people who are undergoing a mental crisis, pointing out that there are only ten inpatient beds in psychiatric wards in the south of the country for young people.

'You can imagine a teenager in Wexford who had attempted suicide that they would have to travel 200 kms to Cork.'

He said when mental health institutions were closed in recent years in Ireland the number of people with mental health issues in prisons increased dramatically to 70 per cent.

Deputy Wallace said psychiatric drugs - which the government spends around €35m on annually - are necessary to treat some people, adding that they should never be a long term solution.

'People bury trauma deep inside only for it to re-emerge in later years to devastating effect.'

He said there is a pressure to be happy in society, adding: 'It's Ok to be down in the dumps and it's Ok to talk about it. Feeling depressed is normal and to be suicidal is a normal reaction to extreme trauma and pain. Someone needs to be there before the crisis hits.'

259,000 people are using a variety of eight different types of anti depressants, Deputy Wallace said, adding that the number only accounts for those on state supported medication.

He spoke of the Open Dialogue system in Lapland which has seen a remarkable reduction to schizophrenia in recent years. Through the programme the individual and their family are empowered to make decisions about their life and medication.

'At the centre of this is respect for the individual and their autonomy. I think by working together we can make progress and we can come up with a better way of trying to address the whole issue in Wexford.'

Dympna Maguire of Cura said the organisation's office in Wexford had to close in recent weeks due to funding cut backs.

She said women in Wexford can contact the confidential support service, which provides post abortion counselling.

'Women go to England in the morning and they're is a taxi waiting for them at the airport. They have the abortion and they get a taxi back and fly home that evening. It happens so quickly they don't have time to think about it. They have no support whatsoever and these girls talk about the experience they had when they entered the clinic in England.'

Bernadette Kavanagh of the Cornmarket Project which works with young people who have substance misuse and criminality problems, spoke of the systemic difficulties in providing supports for people who have both addiction and mental health issues.

Ms Kavanagh said: 'Mental health services are reluctant to work with people who have substance misuse issues as they see them as being unstable and we find it difficult to work with people with mental health issues as they can be unstable.'

She added: 'Within the last while the number of people presenting to use in crisis and suicidal has lessened. There are still people self harming and experiencing suicidal ideation.'

Shona King of the Collective Sensory Group Wexford spoke of her experience of the lack of services for parents of children with autism.

Ms King said she became concerned for her son when he was two as he wasn't able to speak. In 2015 she sold the family car and opened the sensory group centre with help from Respond. To date 300 autistic children have been helped and have been given a 'toolbox of skills' to help them to communicate with their teachers and family.

'Families do have to pay for therapists but every family is subsidised.'

She said: 'The state of mental health services in Wexford are inhumane. It's not fair and that does not seem to be a strong enough word. We are seeing families suffer and for something so simple that could help these teenagers and adults become amazing. They are held back constantly with 18 month waiting lists and then you don't fit the criteria and you're back on an 18 month waiting list. The government is not going to change, no matter how many people succumb to mental health and depression. It's up to everyone in this room and everyone in the streets and in communities to come together and make change happen.'

Representing It's Good to Talk, county councillor and addiction counsellor Davy Hynes said he became involved with mental health as a young man as he had a drink problem.

'Due to help from my family and my friends I have overcome it and I have a reasonably normal life,' he said.

Cllr Hynes said there is a marked difference between the support for campaigns to save the A&E of Wexford General Hospital by Wexford politicians and the support for better mental health services.

'If you are sick with a broken arm everyone has sympathy for you, but if you have something wrong with you mentally it's a whole different story. It doesn't seem to catch politicians' eyes.'

He said former health minister James O'Reilly promised funding for It's Good to Talk's qualified counsellors and in December €130,000 was allocated and yet no money has been provided to run the service which has facilitated 15,000 sessions to date.

'It's a community based centre of excellence in mental health care and no-one is ever turned away. We are still nowhere near getting the funding and we found out that it is only going to fund Irish Association of Psychologists qualified counsellors, so half the staff will not receive any pay, including addiction counsellors.'

Enniscorthy woman Emma Ronan was in agreement with the need to educate children about mental health and that it is Ok to talk about problems.

Ms Ronan said; '(When someone comes to you) it's very important to feel confident enough to talk about their problem and to learn how to talk to them. You just feel so helpless.'

Ms Johnstone, who is a psychotherapist, said: 'Sometimes it's enough to just listen.'

One woman in attendance urged Deputy Wallace to pursue the need for a 24/7 psychiatric unit in Wexford in the Dáil.

Deputy Wallace replied: 'I am trying to learn about all this as I don't know enough. We don't know if we can make things better but we are prepared to try and coordinate and some up with a better way of doing this. We are not promising that we are going to change the world but we are prepared to do something.'

After the meeting Ms Johnstone told this newspaper that the groups in attendance, along with possibly some other Wexford based mental health campaign groups, plan to form an alliance to improve services in the county.

'We have all learned a lot from the meeting. We will regroup and decide from there what course of action to take.'

Wexford People

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