Mental health problems do not discriminate. They don’t take into account age, gender, culture or the size of house you reside in. And, as the county’s Director of Nursing for Donegal Mental Health Service, Kevin Mills, told members of Letterkenny Town Council this week, they don’t consider “the type of politics you represent.”
They cross, as he declared in a special overview of the services in the county, all domains of life.
And those domains can include the daily issues confronted by councillors and the people they are impacting on.
“We become something of counsellors as opposed to councillors on occasions but we do so without qualifications or knowledge because we are not equipped to deal with some of the problems of people who arrive at our doorsteps,” Cllr. Jim Lynch admitted.
“People do depend on us. There are a lot of issues bothering people out there, issues that can drive people into a mental health situation.”
Earlier in the presentation, the Director of Nursing had asked councillors what they actually knew about mental health. The question prompted a pause for reflection before finally Cllr. Lynch responded with the name: “St. Conal’s.”
For those who grew up in the Letterkenny of old it was an accurate assessment. They had, as Mr. Mills agreed, tended to point to the large building on the top of the hill whenever the subject of mental health arose.
But that was then. Last July, St. Conal’s Hospital closed as a psychiatric facility and the services throughout the county were now more community based.
And now, too, the service users - a term now deployed instead of patients as the Director revealed - get to sit around a table and are allowed to challenge issues relating to treatment and other aspects. Given, Mr. Mills stated, both a “voice and choice” in the type of services they require.
Where Letterkenny itself was concerned, the community element has seen those services centred into offices at St. Eunan’s Court, the General Hospital, day centres, the Work and Art Link premises and other venues. They had also recently opened a new state of the art 34 bed unit at Letterkenny General Hospital. “The whole emphasis now is on positive mental health.”
There were also the voluntary bodies involved, the Nursing Director acknowledging the contribution of such organisations as AWARE, GROW, and Cara House.
The statistics showed that one in four people would have a mental health problem of some description, Mr. Mills pointing to the stigma and myths associated with the issue.
“Labels are dangerous and destructive,” he insisted. They faced challenges in reducing the stigma connected to mental health problems.
Paying tribute to the elected representatives for their continued support in helping to deliver the services to the people of Donegal, Mr. Mills said they had now adopted a multi-disciplinary approach.
He also highlighted the “pressure points” that existed in society - issues such as unemployment, people attempting to make ends meet, breakdown in relationships, all resulting in stress and depression.
Welcoming the chance to speak on the services, he said: “The Council has made a clear statement by asking me along here tonight. Mental health is everybody’s responsibility.”
Reacting to the presentation, councillors paid tribute to Mr. Mills and his team and the huge investment that was being made. The Council had invested a lot of money in facilities such as the Town Parks where people could walk, itself a form of therpay, Cllr. Ciaran Brogan maintained.
Mental health was no longer a taboo subject, Cllr. Tadhg Culbert indicated. But he stated there were those who had not even been diagnosed and didn’t know they had a problem.
Town Mayor, Cllr. Gerry McMonagle said when they were dealing with constituents, at times they wondered about the hidden problems. He asked if there were some programmes for the councillors to involve themselves in to help people who find themselves under stress.
The Director of Nursing suggested the ASSIST programme which offered the basic skills to participants to help prevent incidents of suicide. A listening ear that was non-judgemental.
To assist in overcoming a problem that is non-discriminatory.