STAR REPORT – Part II of our special investigation into our teenagers and their mental health
About half of the 500 people helped every year by a Skibbereen-based suicide prevention charity are young people – and that number is increasing every year
A WEST Cork mother is certain her teenage son would have taken his life by suicide were it not for the support of charity Lisheens House.
The Skibbereen-based suicide prevention charity offers free counselling throughout the region for those with mental health issues.
Run by Mick Kearns and Noreen Murphy, they say that around 50% of the 500 people they help with counselling each year are young people – a figure that’s growing all the time.
‘Our youngest would be around 12 but they’re getting younger all the time. Young people and their mental health is like a tsumani coming down the road,’ warned Mick.
The mother, who did not wish to be named, recalls how her then 17-year-old son’s behaviour had become insular, which she had put down to hormones and typical teen behaviour.
‘But luckily a teacher in his school who had suffered depression picked up on it and approached me to say that he was in that very dark place,’ she said.
She was given a number for Lisheens House who arranged an appointment the next day with a counsellor in Skibbereen.
That saw him referred immediately to the A&E department in CUH as there were very serious fears for his safety.
‘This was very shocking news to me,’ she said, recalling the incident last Christmas.
They were sent home that night as there was no psychologist available to assess him and told to return the next day and from there were sent to Camhs (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
‘It took around two to three weeks to get an appointment and we were also going to Lisheens once or twice a week,’ she said, recalling how both she and an older sibling watched her son constantly during this time.
The Camhs team had four extensive meetings with them, separately and together, and the mum said she found her experience with Lisheens was more helpful.
He is now doing great and she said she was so proud that he came out and looked for help.
‘He had had a very traumatic few months in the lead-up to this – a falling out with friends, an assault on a night out, bereavements in the family, and it had all come to a head.
‘For him it was about getting that perspective on things. He thought the way out was suicide but, through counselling, he realised that wasn’t the answer.’
The mother said that her son had been trying to protect her from the truth and felt it was easier for someone else to let her know how he was feeling.
The same thing happened a mother who learned her daughter was self-harming through a parent of her daughter’s friend.
Noreen said: ‘This woman rang me after she found out her daughter was cutting herself in secondary school. She had no idea this was going on and she approached the school.
‘There wasn’t much they could do, so she rang me out of desperation. She had been on to several places near Cork city as she’s living more in that area, but she couldn’t get seen until August so I got her seen that evening in Skibbereen.’
Mick said parents would go to Donegal if they thought they’d get a solution.
‘Last year we had a call from someone in Tipperary. They got sorted in the end and didn’t come down, but people don’t know what to do or what steps to take when a problem with mental health happens.’
Noreen added: ‘It doesn’t matter where you come from, or what your background is, parents are grasping for somewhere for help.
‘We’re not the biggest organisation around and they only ring me because they’re desperate – they’d do anything to resolve the problem, and not be faced with long waiting lists.’
Lisheens House was set up in 2014 after Noreen lost her husband Donal to suicide. On her website she writes: ‘Up to the day of his death I had tried to get Donal to access the existing mental health services that were available in our locality. However, he refused to go to the hospital. He felt that the formal setting would only add to his anxiety and heighten the turmoil going on in his mind.’
Now her focus is on accessible community-based services.
Mick and Noreen call themselves the ‘middle men’ who take the calls at all times of the day and night. Accessibility, affordability and anonymity is at their core.
They offer one-on-one counselling in Ballincollig, Skibbereen Bantry, Dunmanway, Clonakilty and the city centre, and see people from Kinsale down to Allihies and everywhere in between.
They also get lots of referrals from GPs who, they say, are aware of long waiting lists and think Lisheens can be a better alternative.
Noreen said: ‘We’ve no waiting list at the moment. Whether we’ve money or not, we just get people on board to help, we don’t turn anyone away.’
Mick recalls a recent case of a 13-year-old boy from West Cork they helped.
‘His mother went upstairs and he had made an attempt on his own life. It was down to bullying, even though he had appeared fine.
‘He has been seen by someone organised by us, but I’d say this is not an isolated incident among young people.’
Going forward, the pair remain committed to maintaining their service – whatever it takes.
Fundraising, people doing fundraisers for them and selling furniture are their three income strands.
‘We do it with great difficulty. We’re running to stand still, we’re hand to mouth,’ said Noreen.
The mum whose son has come through the other side urged people to support the charity which has taught her son better coping skills and to be more resilient: ‘Lisheens are doing essential work. We’re one of the luckier ones and Lisheens had a role to play in our outcome.’
Daly’s plan to dial up a therapist
NOT everyone with a mental health problem needs to speak with a consultant psychiatrist, and that’s why we need to develop a lower level of infrastructure within our services.
That’s according to Minister of State for Mental Health, Cork South West TD Jim Daly, who also feels that a better referral system is needed so that young people can avail of the most appropriate services for them.
His ambition is to have a consultant psychiatrist available 24/7, at the touch of a button, through a tele-health initiative.
This person would be based in an A&E and cover, for example Kerry, Cork, Tipperary and Waterford.
However, his focus is to have supports in place to help people before their problems reach this level and his plan is to develop talk therapies (eg counselling and psychotherapists).
‘It’s about helping people to get access to services earlier.
‘I think we need people to start seeking help at a lower level. If problems are left unaddressed they start to escalate. We want to encourage people to reach out earlier and address their issues earlier,’ he said.
Primary health centres, which are being developed in Bandon and Clonakilty, will have psychology services and Minister Daly wants GPs to refer here where appropriate. He has already, with the HSE, developed an online resource called yourmentalhealth.ie which lists over 100 services in this area.
‘The information is organised by age, by geography and by issue, and is very useful as it can be hard to know what’s out there,’ said Minister Daly.
He gave an example of someone in West Cork who had an irrational fear of dogs and was referred by their GP to Camhs, where they were waiting for over 18 months to see someone.
‘Naturally, the consultants looked at the list and didn’t see this is a priority. So it’s about knowing where to go to best suit you.
‘I also plan on building on the website with a phone line, run through the national ambulance service, which would provide a better referral passage.’
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