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Achill priest says lockdown affecting people’s mental health

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Fr Gerard Quirke believes suicide rates have ‘gone through the roof’


Anton McNulty

AN Achill-based curate has called for the current Covid-19 restrictions to be eased, as he believes they are affecting people’s mental health.
The Government is expected to announce plans for the easing of restrictions after the Easter holiday, and according to Achill curate Fr Gerard Quirke the announcement cannot come soon enough.
Fr Quirke, who is one of the youngest priests in the Archdiocese of Tuam, says the isolation caused by the restrictions is causing immense suffering to people living alone in rural areas.
“There needs to be an easing of restrictions because more people will die from Covid, but not because of the virus but because of mental health problems,” he warned.
“People are really suffering, with the rate of suicide gone through the roof. I am talking to priests throughout the country, and they have never come across the rate of suicide or depression and anxiety. I have friends who are psychologists and they have never been so busy dealing with people in these situations.
“Here in Achill, where people are living alone and physically isolated anyway, they don’t have these social outlets they would normally have. They are experiencing problems they may have never experienced before.
“I have experienced elderly people in particular, who are so frightened by what the media is portraying that they are afraid to leave their house. I have seen cases of older people hallucinating, and that is simply directly linked to being enclosed at home all of the time. I had, on more than one occasion, people calling to the door at five in the morning who are totally hopeless and desolate and need someone to talk to,” he said.

New role
Fr Quirke took up his new role in Achill in December just before the Level 5 restrictions came in to place. He said the lack of interaction with parishioners has been frustrating. However,  he said, the phone has been a lifeline for many people to ring and talk.
The Tuam native has started broadcasting daily Mass over Facebook, but he has criticised the decision not to allow people into church for Mass and to limit funerals to ten people.
“It is extremely frustrating because when one looks at supermarkets and they are open and no restrictions on people being allowed in. Yet our churches are the largest buildings in the parishes and people are not allowed in, with only one exception and that is for funerals when only ten people are allowed in. If you go to a supermarket you can have 30 or 40 people doing their shopping. It is very frustrating that the Government doesn’t recognise salvation as an essential part of life.
“Unfortunately I am getting used to it. It will be strange being faced with a full church again. It will be like my first days as a priest all over again.”