Christine Wynne has been critical of the lack of action.

‘Rethink’ needed in mental health system

Councillors were appalled to learn it can take as long as 10 weeks for a person presenting in crisis to have their case addressed by the HSE’s mental health services.

“Mental health is not 9-5, Monday to Friday. It doesn’t stop there,” said Christine Wynne, coordinator at SOSAD, the local suicide awareness and bereavement service, in her address to councillors at their monthly meeting earlier this month.

She adds: “There is no regular day for us, no call we don’t answer.”

Ms Wynne believes a completed “rethink” is needed in how Ireland manages mental health issues, explaining to elected members how when people present in crisis they are brought to A&E, and often are left waiting for hours before they are seen by suitably qualified medical personnel.

This can be due to a variety of reasons, but more often than not comes down to deciding which course of action is taken in assigning treatment.

“They do not have 10 hours to sit there,” she said, noting that such incidents can occur when alcohol or drugs have been misused. “I do think the whole thing needs to be looked at. When we get a crisis call, it gets our priority. The paperwork goes out the window and we focus on that.”

Ms Wynne is the only paid employee within an organisation that provides more than 120 free counselling sessions a week, both peer and one-to-one, operates a 24 hour helpline and out-of-hours messaging service, as well as walk-in services, and a range of other supports.

Aside from coordinating the service, Ms Wynne has regular engagement with a gambit of statutory support services, such as Tusla, the regional mental health forum and the North East Regional Drug and Alcohol Task Force, to name a few.

SOSAD also links in with Cavan-Monaghan Mental Health Service and Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) teams.

She’s been 11 years with SOSAD in Cavan and was proud to tell councillors that “not one” person who engaged with the service has gone on to take their own lives. She said when SOSAD learns of deaths by suicide in the locality “most likely” that person had not engaged with the service.

SOSAD, she said, is working to further enhance its presence in the community. The team is working with former county footballer turned mental health advocate Alan O’Mara on an information promo that can be shared with sports clubs, businesses and even schools.

Financial battle

Councillors were just as surprised to hear of the uphill financial battle faced by SOSAD Cavan to simply keep the doors open to the growing number of people availing of its supports and services.

Ms Wynne said the bucket shaking and other fundraising events accounted for much of the day-to-day running, while small grants such as those made available by the council paid for minor improvements such a changing the fabric on chairs in the office to make them easier to clean during Covid.

It was Fianna Fáil’s John Paul Feeley, now Cathaoirleach, who first probed the disparity in financial support provided to some charities versus others. Ms Wynne replied that it was a “fine line” for SOSAD which opted to maintain its independence and ethos ahead of cashing in a “blank cheque”, which might mean the organisation may have to compromise what services they provide.

“When someone puts €2 in a box, I want to let people know that that €2 is spent locally, either keeping the lights on or spent even buying a box of tea.”

Many councillors told Ms Wynne of experiences they themselves had encountered, either at the request of families, or persons seeking direct help, and spoke of the frustrations that arose. “We did everything we were told to do,” said Aontú’s Sarah O’Reilly recalling one particular incident, which included getting a referral from a local GP. But she said there existed a lag in where the two connected.

Fianna Fáil’s Aiden Fitzpatrick said some people remained worryingly “unaware” of the supports available, and Independent Shane P O’Reilly lamented the “scourge” of drug use in the county. He also highlighted how, when young people require intervention, the only option available is an adult psychiatric unit. He said it didn’t take a “rocket scientist” to realise that approach was wrong.

Mum-of-three Ms Wynne agreed. She also expressed a belief that there is a requirement to “normalise” discussion around mental health, and if that means bringing awareness to children at an even earlier age then “so be it”.

“We need to talk about mental health more,” and cited how SOSAD is engaging with organisations such as Men’s Shed and others. “It’s about working together as a community. Instead of working from the top down, we’d be much better working from the better up.”

Trevor Smith (FG), TP O’Reilly (FG), Peter McVitty (FG) and Craig Lovett (FF) also contributed to the discussion, with Philip Brady (FF) proposing that the council do more to try and assist SOSAD in attaining funding supports. The proposal was supported by Cllr Feeley.


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