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Mental-health queries rise sharply in Mayo

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HELP IS AT HAND Niall Dunne, Mayo Mental Health.

Mayo Mental Health Association reports 60 percent enquiries increase

Edwin McGreal

There has been a sizeable increase in mental-health queries in recent weeks compared to the previous lockdown in spring.
Mayo Mental Health Association (MMHA) is reporting a 60 percent rise in queries in the past month as the country continues in Level 5 of the National Framework for Living with Covid-19.
Niall Dunne, manager of MMHA, which provides mental health supports to individuals and communities in the county, says the organisation has noticed a significant increase in enquiries over recent weeks.
“There is a 60 percent increase in the last three to four weeks alone,” he told The Mayo News. “We’re always busy but we didn’t see a huge increase during the first lockdown because the Government message was very clear, everyone understood it, it was simple, it was for a period of time.
“In the last few weeks we’d see a lot of people who are unsure what is going to happen next; that is a factor. That uncertainty seems to have increased among people,” he said.

‘Erased’
Mr Dunne said that MMHA deals with, on average, 200 queries a month at its information centre in Castlebar.
“We don’t provide any clinical input. Our aim is to provide people with options and information about issues relating to mental-health issues. Our organisation would be well connected out there in the community and would be able to give help and support to people and point them in the right direction,” he said.
MMHA also works with 10,500 secondary school students in Mayo’s 24 post-primary schools in the county. It has highlighted the particularly challenging environment for teenagers and young adults who may be facing mental health issues.
“Normally, with young people, there are any amount of outlets we can recommend and push them towards to help them.
“We might get a call about someone for social contacts, and we would usually recommend a variety of outlets, but you open up your book and 90 percent of what you would usually recommend has been erased. The social life has been curtailed, the gym is out, sports groups or any group meetings are gone. The options for people who are struggling are greatly reduced,” he said.
“The younger cohort have been pick-pocketed left, right and centre. It is different for older people. Say a married couple with wife and kids, being at home a lot is a natural thing, it is part of the process, but what 20 year olds are doing now is not natural, it is not what they should be doing.
“So imagine kids are away in college, they have that freedom, the fun, and that’s taken away and they’re under the same roof as the parents; it is inevitable there will be some stresses and strains,” he said.

Dramatic changes
The way in which MMHA provides services has changed dramatically too, Mr Dunne explains.
“On a Wednesday night we used to have different group meetings for people who are struggling and need that support. We cannot have people coming in here on a Wednesday night now, so we’re trying to find alternative ways. It’s a struggle.
“You’re trying to manage the situation but it is hard to solve it. With all the technology we have, the basic, traditional face-to-face interaction with people still applies. We’re social animals. Technology will only take you so far,” he said.
MMHA caters for in the region of 30 residents, of which half are long-term. The supports it typically provides to residents have been greatly curtailed.
There are much greater restrictions on what outlets MMHA can recommend, and visits to the residents are also off the table.
To fill the void, MMHA has initiated a befriending service, making contact every Tuesday and Friday.  
Typically, MMHA visits each secondary school in the county at least once a year, connecting with 10,500 teenagers, but that activity has also now been curtailed.
However, Dunne remains hopeful.
“We’re all great at making predictions about the impact on mental health. The reality is we don’t know yet. We thought with the first lockdown we’d have far more issues than turned out to be the case.
“It is going to be difficult, people are going to be together under the one roof a lot more and there will be stresses and strains. All we can say is that we are always available to provide support, and even though we are busy at present, we will do everything we can to assist anyone in need of our support,” he said.

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For more on Mayo Mental Health Association services, contact 094 9038148 or visit www.mayomha.ie.