The shameful reality is that 1 in 4 people will have a mental illness at some point in life. A comparable statistic people often talk about is that 1 in 2 people will develop cancer in their lifetime, but why are physical and mental health problems treated so differently? The answer is stigma.
People with mental health problems and their relatives in Ireland consistently identify stigma and discrimination as the biggest hurdle to overcoming their illness.
A see change study conducted into mental health in Ireland in 2012 found that 94% of people in Ireland feel that mental health problems can affect anyone, but one in two people said they would not want anyone to know if they were suffering mental illness.
Before the pandemic, the mental health system in Ireland was already stretched. Covid-19 has exacerbated the flaws in the health system, and it is doing the exact same to our mental health system. The system in place as it stands will not be able to cope with the demand after long periods of isolation and suffering during our third lockdown in one year.
Figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) last month show 6 in 10 people feel their mental health has suffered significantly throughout the pandemic.
Mental health charities in Ireland tell a similar tale with a significant spike in demand for their services particularly since the second lockdown in October.
Samaritans says its volunteers have listened for almost 73,000 hours since last March. Aware recorded a 36% rise in calls in 2020. ALONE, notes an increase in a wide range of mental health impacts among older people.
While the youth site SpunOut.ie received 5,000 texts a month for each of the last six months from people aged 16-34 with issues including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
It is also the national voluntary group supporting people with eating disorders and it reports a 150% increase in people accessing its online support services in January and February of this year when compared to the same two months last year.
The mental health system in Ireland is in a rather distressing state of affairs due to the low percentage spent on mental health services at 6%. There is a common belief among healthcare professionals that there is a need for 12%.
The policies for mental health management in Ireland are there in writing but continue to fail due to lack of investment.
On the HSE website, in the situation of a mental health crisis the supports available listed are GPs, health centres, hospital emergency services, A&E, and telephone emergencies services such as 999. The numbers for free counselling services such as Samaritans and Childline are also listed.
In response to a query on social media, I received responses from many who told me of their own personal experience within the public mental healthcare system.
Overall, the system in place is described as one that often waits until mental-health issues become emergencies before engaging and possibly intervening with early intervention and diagnosis.
One person who shared their story with me recounted their experience.
“After a suicide attempt last June I was brought to A&E where I was offered a referral to a psychiatric unit. It was the middle of the night. My mum asked if I could go there right now, and we were told that it was not an emergency and to consider just waiting until morning. It was so heart-breaking to feel like my life wasn’t a priority”.
“I feel as if I’ve never been “sick enough” to be taken seriously. Sometimes it feels like the HSE thinks I should just take my pills and deal with this alone. It is so much harder than that. It’s so difficult knowing you need help but not knowing what help you need, or what help is out there”.
If you are affected by issues in this article you can call Pieta House 1800 247247 or text “HELP” to 51444, Contact Aware at 1800 80 4848 or [email protected] or the Samaritans at 116123 or [email protected]. You can also text “HELLO” to 50808