Priest stresses the need for adequate Mental Health Support by the State in the community
Fr. Michael Toomey of Clonmel has spoken out about the dire need for state resources to be properly deployed to help people with mental health problems. He said
“I thank Minister Daly for coming to Tipperary. I am disappointed however that he cannot make time to meet some of the fantastic staff, volunteers and people who work tirelessly across the county to get a first hand sense of just how dire the lack of mental health support and lack of beds are here in the county.
There is not one single crisis mental health bed available in Co Tipperary.
This, despite the fact that Tipperary has the highest suicide rate outside of Dublin…”
He spoke with Sean O’Rourke and Minister Jim Daly T.D. on RTE Radio 1.
Minister Daly has responsibility for Mental Health and Older People.
Sarah McDonald has also reported on this issue in the Irish Independent.
Sarah Mac Donald
November 22 2019
Jigsaw is opening a new mental health outreach in Thurles next year, but local campaigners are angry that there are still no crisis mental health beds in the whole of Co Tipperary.
Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Mr Daly this week announced Jigsaw’s new hub will be operational in Thurles from next year.
The announcement followed his meeting with a delegation representing local Oireachtas and county councillors on mental health care in Co Tipperary.
But Fr Michael Toomey criticised Mr Daly’s failure to meet more frontline staff while holding discussions in the county.
He said these staff could have given him a sense of just how “dire the lack of mental health support and the lack of beds are in the county”, the priest said.
Fr Toomey highlighted how he had dealt with eight suicides either directly or indirectly since June this year.
He believes the main mental health issue for the county is the lack of crisis beds, particularly in the south.
Following the minister’s visit earlier this week, Fr Toomey said: “I thank Minister Daly for coming to Tipperary.
“I am disappointed however that he cannot make time to meet some of the fantastic staff, volunteers and people who work tirelessly across the county to get a first hand sense of just how dire the lack of mental health support and lack of beds are here in the county.
“There is not one single crisis mental health bed available in Co Tipperary.
“This, despite the fact that Tipperary has the highest suicide rate outside of Dublin, and recent figures show that Clonmel has been hit by more suicides per capita than the rest of the country outside of Dublin,” said the priest, who is based in the Parish of the Resurrection in Clonmel.
“Our A&E departments across the county are, on an almost daily basis, stretched to the limit. The staff do outstanding work in appalling situations.
“And yet those with mental health emergencies have to also endure what any other patient has to, ending up often on trolleys with no privacy and dignity on a corridor, which I have personally witnessed several times.”
The closure of St Michael’s Unit at South Tipperary General Hospital in 2012 resulted in the loss of 18 acute mental health beds which were never replaced.
Those with mental health emergencies today are directed to hospital A&E departments and often end up on trolleys.
However, a spokesman for Mr Daly told the Irish Independent that a new permanent 10-bed crisis house is to be developed on Glenconnor Road in Clonmel.
It is expected that construction will commence shortly after March 2020.
A spokesperson for the HSE said the build for the crisis house envisages “a construction programme of 12 months or less”.
Mr Daly’s spokesperson also said that Tipperary’s suicide statistics of 8.5 per 100,000 are marginally above the national average of 8.1.
South Tipperary is below the national average.
Add the typical perfunctory Irish Catholic Mass – and the closely related Irish clerical terror of dialogue – to the shortfall in mental health provision in Ireland – because mental illness is a spiritual problem also.
As a past sufferer from depression, to a degree that became ‘clinical’, I am quite certain now that this was caused primarily by ‘noise in the head’ – an inability to quit processing mentally all of my difficult – and sometimes traumatic – personal experiences – as well as the information I was obliged to absorb professionally as a teacher of history and current affairs.
So I have experienced all of the approved medical ‘treatments’ for this condition: medication, group therapy, one-to-one therapy. All helped to some degree, at different stages, and I occasionally still meet with a therapist. However, I am now totally medication-free and primarily reliant upon a practice that I understand to be contemplative prayer.
It is to the latter I resort totally to fall asleep, as a means of stilling all recycling of the most disturbing issues and experiences of the day – especially that tendency towards second-guessing myself that used to keep me sleepless – those ‘what ifs’ that have no answer.
And what is the ‘unconditional positive regard’ of the good therapist if not the ‘unconditional love’ of the Gospel and that sense of a loving presence that good liturgy can give?
So, I assure every sufferer, can contemplative prayer – the substitution of e.g. Psalm 23, or the Prologue to John’s Gospel – or any number of other passages from scripture – for otherwise obsessive thoughts.
Of the 150 Psalms, about 100 are written from the point of view of a single sufferer surrounded by accusers or enemies. This parallels uncannily the loneliness of the solitary sufferer of random unbidden thoughts and accusing voices – the experience which, unchecked, can become deeply dangerous if sleeplessness follows.
With what was Jesus dealing if not the extremes of that experience – the ‘legions in the head’ that would have accompanied the most brutal occupation of Palestine in his own time, and the dilemmas of what was to be done about that? That was especially a shaming experience, and it is essentially with shame that we are dealing in the deepest depression.
What exactly is it that inhibits clergy from seeing and saying all this, given our centuries of Irish experience of the shame of occupation – now replaced by the intellectual ‘colonisation’ of global media, especially the Internet?
Where can I go in my church to amplify all of this for anyone interested? What accounts for this apartheid of clergy and people, and the monopoly of ‘unconditional positive regard’ by purely secular modes of treatment that regard ‘the church’ as part of the problem rather than part of the solution?
Thank you Sean for sharing your lived experience as a former sufferer of depression. It is through your openness that the stigma that surrounds speaking about mental health challenges will be beaten. You are an inspiration.