THE Department of Health and the HSE are making no real efforts to tackle the issue of mental health, according to a Castlebar councillor.
Cllr Michael Kilcoyne made the criticism at last Thursday’s meeting of Castlebar Town Council where the authority received a presentation from the Mayo Suicide Forum.
Mary O’Sullivan, Resource Officer for Suicide Prevention for HSE West, and Breda Ruane, Youth Officer with Mayo VEC, addressed the meeting, informing the council of the efforts of the Forum to co-ordinate suicide and mental health support groups and services.
However several councillors took issue with wider efforts to tackle increased cases of mental ill-health and rising suicide rates.
“I’d like to say ye’ve been doing an excellent job but I cannot say that. There have been eight suicides in Mayo this year. Your organisation is trying to do the best and so are many others. But it is not succeeding. The message is not getting across to the people who need it,” said Cllr Kilcoyne.
He said he knew of cases where people weren’t getting the care they needed.
“I am satisfied that it is the case that people can’t access the services. I am satisfied that it is the case that people have gone to the general hospital in this county after having taken an overdose and they have a difficulty in understanding the doctor because he can’t speak decent English. Then there’s no follow-up and a couple of weeks later that person is dead.
“I don’t think there’s any real efforts being made by the Department of Health on the issue of mental health. Beds are being lost in Castlebar and Ballina. Thirty beds are all that are available in this county for people that need help. If people need help, they don’t know what to do. Some well-heeled people in the HSE are not doing their job.”
Cllr Harry Barrett said that the level of care afforded to people with mental health problems in this country was a huge problem.
“The mental health services are a disgrace. A guest speaker at the recent Irish annual conference of psychotherapists lacerated them for their reliance on prescription drugs like benzodiazepines at the expense of ‘talk therapy’.
“A lot of money is being made on mental health drugs and they are being used as a substitute for proper therapy. What we have here [with the forum] is the genesis of the proper way to do things.”
Cllr Therese Ruane said the level of spending by the government demonstrated how the problem was being addressed.
“The budget for mental health as a percentage of the total spend on health is 9 per cent I think. That percentage shows where the priority is, it shows the issue isn’t being taken seriously.”
Mary O’Sullivan told the meeting that they were aiming to get all the disparate groups to work together in order to make it easier for people with problems to ‘reach out’.
Breda Ruane added that plans were ongoing for the provision of a centre in Castlebar similar to ‘Jigsaw’ in Galway to offer a support service for young people affected by mental ill-health.
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