Pieta House redundancies suggest Ireland is headed for a mental health crisis next
As Ireland focuses all its efforts on one health crisis, we should be worried about sleepwalking into another.
This week, it was announced that prominent mental health charity Pieta House would make 28 clinical support workers redundant, with significant pay cuts for those who remain. Its flagship global event, Darkness Into Light, has been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
It's a devastating blow for those who have lost their jobs and for those who use the service, and a terrible omen of what is to come during the most challenging period in modern Irish history.
Right now, Ireland's suicide rate is thankfully at its lowest in 20 years. This is due in large part to the services provided by charities like Pieta House, who are massively aided by donations from the public.
This state of affairs is now at risk, and that should make us scared.
The government acknowledges that we are in the depths of deep depression. Unemployment has skyrocketed, and earnings will take a significant hit. The jobs market will go barren, and we don't know how long the drought will last. Charities like Pieta House will suffer a funding gap that can't be closed without government intervention, even if every Instagram user in Ireland was to Run 5 Donate 5 Nominate 5 and give it all to the one charity.
In an interview with JOE, psychologist Dr. Eoin Galavan warned of "the psychological trauma that builds over time, largely from secondary impacts of the disease... in the post is a whole package of suicide risk and psychological and emotional trauma". Galavan likened the present day to the recession at the start of the decade, when suicide rose by 15% in Ireland, a trend that was consistent the world over.
Ireland has now entered a different kind of recession - not brought about by financial mistakes, but by death itself. By a cataclysmic, biological blow that has reminded us of our own fragility and mortality, claimed thousands of lives, and robbed us of so many things that are essential in our pursuit of happiness: socialising, sports, dancefloors, concerts, face-time with friends, festivals, canal-side cans. You name it.
These comforts will return to us in the fullness of time, but the damage done by this period of isolation and trauma is yet to be reckoned with.
This is something we cannot stop thinking about. That more than 1,375 people have already died and been laid to rest without a proper memorial service. That grief has been circling the 2km radius with us on our sanity jogs. That children in their formative years have missed out on vital interactions with friends, or their loving grandparents. Dream-jobs have been lost and dream-moves scuppered, weddings cancelled, exam stress that makes the exam stress of any year gone by look like a trifling issue.
There's a lot to be sad about.
It is inevitable that our chickens are coming home to roost, and those chickens are going to need extensive therapy. Common sense tells us that demand for mental healthcare is about to surge.
‘We need to realise that in the post is a whole package full of psychological and emotional trauma.’
Psychologist Dr Eoin Galavan explains why we may feel safer now than at the start of the Covid-19 crisis but says there is a mental health emergency we need to be ready for. pic.twitter.com/MJzvhBzQ0m
— JOE.ie (@JOEdotie) May 1, 2020
Ireland has chosen not to prepare for this. Throughout the Covid crisis, Minister for Health Simon Harris has tweeted repeatedly about the importance of maintaining our mental health. But the very structure of mental healthcare provision in Ireland tells us that the government sees it as somebody else's job.
The 2016 Benefacts Annual Report on non-profits noted that "Ireland is uniquely dependent on non-profit organisations for the delivery of many public services, especially in health and social care." When it comes to the mental healthcare the HSE does provide, there are thousands of people on waiting lists — not least because there are 200 unfilled psychologist positions and 19 counties without any inpatient beds for children with mental health issues.
It's not appropriate that the government has so completely and recklessly abdicated its duty on mental healthcare that people are left to rely on privately-run charities, who can pay their CEOs whatever they pay them, and their clinical staff a damn sight less. In fact, it's disgraceful.
Pieta House has saved lives. I mean the therapists, and the service. Not the CEO, and not the private company. Access to life-saving care is a human right of the most fundamental order. It doesn't fall upon the Irish Cancer Society to provide chemotherapy. It doesn't fall upon volunteers to perform appendectomies.
Put simply: it shouldn't be necessary for Pieta House to exist.
TDs have called for the government to intervene in the immediate term, to stop Pieta House from deteriorating. That alone tells us that our elected representatives know well that it has somehow become the job of charities to help those under the duress of their own mind.
So digging out Pieta House isn't enough. It's the "Is there anything to be said for another mass?" approach that we're all too fond of in this country. Ireland needs more. The government needs to finally accept that it, rather than an assortment of charities, is responsible for provision of mental healthcare in this country.
Covid-19 has taught us that it pays to be prepared for the worst, long before the worst arrives. In this case, we don't need to import PPE, testing kits and ventilators. We need a functioning system, that can see and treat patients in a timely manner, no matter where in the country they are based, no matter their condition, and no matter their income level.
Suicide will not kill as many people as Covid-19, but it will kill far too many. We aren't prepared for this, but the warning signs are all there.