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Raising the bar for mental health services

April 18th, 2017 7:11 AM

By Southern Star Team

Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Helen McEntee (seated, centre) and Jim Daly TD, Cork South West (standing, right) with Noreen Murphy and Mick Kearns of Lisheens House in the Music Library at Lisheens House Support and Training Centre in Skibbereen.

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A community-based approach to suicide prevention and mental well-being in Skibbereen is attracting attention at government level, writes Aisling Meath

When the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, and TD for Meath East, Helen McEntee heard about Lisheens House Suicide Prevention Service in Skibbereen, she made a point of travelling to see for herself the services being provided there.

This she did on Thursday evening last, March 30th, and during her visit she was able to view the art exhibition which is currently on display as well as the studios, music library, kitchen, counselling rooms and upcycled and antique furniture display – all of which are housed in an old print room attached to The Southern Star offices on Ilen Street in Skibbereen. These facilities were officially opened by former governor of Mountjoy prison, John Lonergan, in August 2016.

This was a particularly poignant occasion for Minister McEntee, who herself lost her father, Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee, to suicide in 2012. It’s no surprise then that all attempts to address the issues of mental health and suicide are of great interest to her.

Speaking to The Southern Star about Lisheens House, she said: ‘I wanted to see what people are doing here and to identify what is working and what is not. I am very interested in approaches to positive mental health and in particular those with young people, and of course I empathise with anybody experiencing these difficulties.’

Listening to music for emotional well-being in the new music library at Lisheens House Support and Training Centre is just one of the many activities available. The establishment of this library in March was another milestone in the development of the centre as a community-based and free-to-use mental health service.

‘It’s been a whirlwind couple of years,’ said Mick Kearns, manager, who along with his partner Noreen Murphy (founder of Lisheens House Suicide Prevention) continues to fundraise tirelessly, and is aiming to keep the service viable and expanding.

‘We launched our free counselling service in October 2014 and at that time we didn’t have a premises, but as the demand grew, and we soon realised that we needed a central base in West Cork so we opened our charity shop on Main Street in Skibbereen, with a drop-in facility adjacent to it.’ he said.

Noreen Murphy recalls the busy time around the opening the shop: ‘When we were putting the sign over the door “Lisheen’s House West Cork’s Suicide Prevention Service” a woman stopped me and said “You are surely not going to put that over the door? Suicide? You can’t be using that word.”’

That word is all too real to many people who have lost loved ones through suicide – something which has only been decriminalised since 1993. ‘My husband Denis was in fear of the stigma attached to him suffering from depression,’ said Noreen. ‘I feel that it was his fear around this stigma that led him to the act of no return – to take his own life.’

Both Noreen and Mick, in common with so many others, have experienced the initial trauma and lasting legacy of suicide within their families. It was their response to these events that spurred on their determination to establish the services provided by Lisheens House. Their hope is that further deaths can be prevented, that families are supported through the grieving process, and to offer the general community tools for promoting positive mental health.

A place of refuge where the kettle is always on the boil and a listening ear awaits, it provides an in-house, discreet counselling service available for anyone on a drop-in basis.  Lisheens House also provides an anonymous counselling service, outside the centre, where if you call you are given a six-digit number, which you use to liaise with a counsellor, by telephone. The councillors who provide the service say that they are kept going all the time, and the appointment books continue to fill.

‘We at Lisheens House believe that to reach out to everyone in the community and encourage positive mental well-being, we must have a multi-faceted approach,’ said Mick.

Karen Billing is an artist whose Bootshed Art Studio is on the first floor of the centre. She is also the centre’s arts co-ordinator and the donor of the music collection used to start the library. Among other activities, she facilitates specialised one-to-one art sessions under the title Caring2Create, especially for artists on the autistic spectrum.

‘I have over 10 years experience facilitating art sessions with people who have autistic spectrum disorders. I have developed my own working method. I very much believe in the potential of my clients as emerging artists,’ she said.

An exhibition of the work – entitled ‘Artistic’ – which opened at the centre on April 2nd to mark World Autism Awareness Day, is showing for the next three weeks.

Various other volunteers and facilitators at Lisheens House run courses such as Conversational English; Mindful Movement; Introduction to Psychology; Tai Chi and Iyengar Yoga. It is also HQ for the Wild Atlantic Art Collective. 

Lorelei Tomko is a volunteer in her golden years who has recently relocated to Ireland from California. ‘It [Lisheens House] is an inspiring place to help out, and to watch it evolve and grow.’ she said.

Two facilitators have recently been trained to deliver a QPR course – Question, Persuade, Refer – designed specifically for suicide prevention, which can be delivered to any club or society free of charge. ‘It’s thanks to the generous fundraising efforts of the Santry family that this invaluable training progamme has been enabled.’ said Mick Kearns. ‘We are proud of the fact that we have come as far as we have without State funding,’ he continued, ‘and we believe that this is a testament to the hard work of our volunteers and the support of the local community.’

‘Furthermore we believe the template we have created here can be scaled and replicated in any community. Therefore community-based mental health support services can be very much part of the solution to the crisis that exists. Lisheens House is grateful to Deputy Jim Daly for inviting the Minister to visit and for his ongoing support for what we are trying to achieve.’

In conclusion, Noreen Murphy reflected: ‘If the electricity goes out, just light a candle and do something to see once again, to get out of the dark.’

• Contact Lisheens House: Confidential helpline – 023-88-88-888; Mick Kearns, 086-4066348. Lisheens House is always open to volunteers and enquiries from facilitators to help expand its courses and services – contact: 028-51950.

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