Irish Mental Health Services During COVID-19

Mental health receives only 6% of the budget. Photo Cred: Creative Commons, ‘Muffet’

Mental health helplines support vulnerable members of the public during this challenging time but mental health still only receive 6% from the government budget.

In 2018 ‘Healthy Ireland’ conducted a survey which concluded that at any one time 10% of Irish people over age 15 has a probable mental health problem(PMHP). This was roughly 337,000 based on the 2016 census population data. In the same survey, 15% of people aged 11-13 and 20% of people aged 19-24 have experienced mental health problems.

With many people losing their jobs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, figuring out how to pay rent and bills are causing stress and strain to peoples mental health. Mental health helplines are working hard to take calls from those who are feeling stressed and suffering from ill mental health in this hectic time.

Last year, 1,027 people in the west of Ireland were waiting between 3 months, 6 months or more than 6 months to see a counselor, according to the Health Service Executive(HSE). North Dublin is the next worse with statistics of 421 people waiting between 3 and 6 months for counselling services. According to the HSE, South Dublin and Wicklow only had 14 clients waiting up to 3 months and just 1 person waiting 6 months.

If we compare ourselves to the U.K. which spent 14% of their budget on mental health in 2019, Ireland only spent 6% of the budget on mental health. In relation to sectioning(involuntary psychiatric admission)cases, Ireland has the 3rd lowest amount of beds compared to population in Europe. Belgium has four times more than Ireland.

It’s normal to feel anxiety and low from time to time so mental health helplines offer a listening service to those of us not feeling our best. That can be depression, anxiety, stress, worry or a range of more complicated mental health disorders.

1,027 people in the west of Ireland were waiting between 3 months, 6 months or more than 6 months to see a counselor    -Health Service Executive Ireland

The Samaritans, established in 1962 has 20 branches in Ireland and more than 2,000 volunteer listeners. According to them, ‘Only about 1 in 5 calls or messages are from people feeling suicidal, and the vast majority of these aren’t actively planning to end their lives”. A Samaritan volunteer must complete 10 sessions, which are 3 hours long, over a couple of months as training for the role.

The next step is mentorship until a volunteer is ready to be on their own. According to training information, “You’ll never be on your own as a listening volunteer. And there’s always time to talk through anything”.

Independent research showed that the majority of mental health helpline conversations encouraged the caller to contact their GP if they were suicidal and reiterated that they could not tell a caller what to do as they were there to primarily listen. Sometimes volunteers spoke over callers or related the callers problems to their own life and despite the same phrases being repeated on different helplines, there is usually no script in mental health listening services.

Healthy scepticism surrounding mental health charities intentions have been questioned since the suicide charity Console scandal between 2012 and 2014. Half a million euro was spent on trips abroad, designer goods, expensive meals and dental work. The CEO denied these allegations.

“Because we can experience increased demand depending upon particular circumstances funding is never completely sufficient”-The Samaritans

Lucy* from Kerry has Schizoaffective disorder which developed when she was 17. She describes her condition as, “…a cruel, cruel disease”. Now 58, she still struggles with her disorder and has reached out to prime helplines but felt unsupported. “To be honest they didn’t understand me or my illness and I feel they have no interest either”.

Even with all the training these services provide, a volunteer is unable to know how the caller is truly feeling. It can take an unknowingly wrong word to distress someone who is already so vulnerable. Cian* has been seeing a counselor for 5 years to deal with his depression and anxiety. From time to time he has called various helplines when he felt low but he was unsatisfied when he was hung up on once and asked if he was getting enough attention.

“I complained when it happened but I don’t think they did anything”. A lot of time and effort goes into training a volunteer and with already limited resources, it’s not in any charities best interest to lose anyone. Funding and volunteer numbers is usually a struggle for these services. “Because we can experience increased demand depending upon particular circumstances, funding is never completely sufficient”, the Samaritans shared.

The constant streaming of Covid-19 news and social media updates may cause worry to some. It’s important to separate online rumors from facts to protect your mental well-being during this challenging event. Mental health helplines also have added pressure as most volunteers are now working from home where they may encounter technical difficulties or other hurdles.

“The government is very supportive of the work of Samaritans in Ireland. There is always more that can be done, especially within the wider area of mental health”, the Samaritans added. It’s good to have these services continue to support the public, particularly during this difficult period.

*Names and identities have been changed to protect anonymity.

*If you have been affected by any issues raised in this article please contact your nearest mental health organisation or G.P. 

Ireland: The Samaritans(Freephone 116 123), or Pieta House(Freephone 1800247247)


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