There were demonstrations across France yesterday, Thursday, in memory of young anti-fascist Clém
Report from the Frontline: Mental Health
With the strife that is being forced on every member of the working class, it is easy to understand why there is such a rise in mental health issues and suicides in Ireland today. Cuts and tax rises are putting more pressure on already strained working class families, both individually and as a whole. How can anyone expect people to be happy, stress and worry free when a significant percentage of working class mothers can barely feed their children? Or with jobs being lost every day, how can we expect anyone to deal with the accompanying feeling of hopelessness, isolation, despair and the overwhelming feeling that they are useless to themselves and their families?
Our jobs are not just essential to supply our families with food, clothing and other basic necessities, but are also integral to our sense of purpose and self esteem. How must people feel when their jobs are taken from them? Or what happens when you are alone, no one relying on you and having nothing to fill your time? With the rate of unemployment set to reach 15% these problems are sure to increase.
Thomas is a single man who lost his job and could not keep up his mortgage repayments and so lost his home. He is a mental health sufferer and had this to say about seeking help when things became too much to cope with:
“I had sought help as I knew I was at risk of causing myself harm or even killing myself as I could see no other way out. I arrived at a local mental health hospital to find out it had been closed down. They did give me the number of the closest open hospital and when I rang them I was told that due to a lack of beds, I would have to wait till the next day to be seen. I managed to make my way to this hospital the next day only to be told, no matter how I feel or what I may do, I would need to be referred to the hospital by a G.P. or a hospital once I had caused sufficient self-harm. I left the hospital feeling much worse than when I went in.”
Thomas knew where to seek help as he is a long term sufferer of a mental condition. But due to lack of funding and budget cuts the help was not there when he sought it. It is obvious to see that even when knowing where to seek help, due to the austerity forced on the working class, by the government, it is nearly impossible to receive it. But many people do not have this experience or knowledge, how are they expected to seek this limited help?
Loss of Mental Health Services
Over the last several years there has been a major decline in mental health services. The Psychiatric Nurses Association has revealed that more than a quarter of the nursing workforce has been lost due to retirements in the last few years. These nurses that have left the workforce are not being replaced, causing severe shortages of staff. This is directly the result of government cutbacks.
In Roscommon alone, family therapy is no longer available, additional services have been reduced by half and cognitive behavioural therapy has been reduced by over a quarter. This is only one county and it is easy to see how the cut backs and lack of funding are hammering these essential services. To highlight another problem facing the Mental Health sector, only 4.5% of the entire health budget is used for mental health services in Ireland. This is compared to 12% in the United Kingdom and most of the Western world. To help aid the mental health sector there are groups, charities and church organisations set up to aid people in need. But funding to all these organisations has also been slashed.
Cregg House in Sligo is one of these services which have been cut in recent times. Cregg House is a service for people with intellectual disabilities. It is run by the Daughters of Wisdom, a religious order, for the last 60 years. Their budget is now €1.3million euro less than needed to keep their services at the same level as in 2011. Effects of the budget cuts include: Loss of Social work, speech and language work are no longer adequate. Total loss of psychology services and some of the residential accommodation is no longer fit for the purpose. The Daughters of Wisdom will now need to pull out of this work as it is no longer safe for them to continue.
This is just one example of many to highlight the fact that the austerity affecting our communities, is directly putting our mental health services into crisis. With a loss of aid it is easy to see why suicide is on the rise. Mental health hospitals and community units are being slashed both in funding and staff, resulting in inadequate care and help for those most in need.
Myths, Stigma and Stereotypes
Historically suicide and self-harming were viewed as being a crime by the State and a ‘sin’ by the church, this caused a lot of myths to arise and the stigma which is still associated with both. It is only in recent years suicide has been removed as a crime. Up until 1993 it was classed as murder and the victim was branded a criminal. With the recent loss of stature of the church there is not as much shame cast upon someone self-harming or who committed suicide. It is still classed as a mortal sin by the church and this is one of the reasons the stigma still continues today. There is also the other part of stigma, the stigma from people who have never experienced mental difficulties.
Rachel had this to say on the subject: “Anyone who has a mental illness should be locked up. Suicide is your own choice so why should anyone care?” Rachel’s brother, who suffers from several mental conditions, responded by saying: “I’ve attempted suicide and survived. At the time I saw it as the only way out. Trust me it is never seen as an easy way out, it’s just the only way.” There has been a slight lessening of the stigma in recent times but it is still rampant in society.
To challenge the myths, stigma and stereotypes, here are some facts:
Myth: Only young men commit suicide and self-harm.
Fact: Traditionally 1 in 4 suicides is a woman or a girl. Also the highest rate of suicide for males is the 20-24 age group, while for
females it is the early 50s age group. But there is no set age or an age limit for suicides or committing self-harm.
Myth: Only the poorest communities suffer losses from suicide and self-harm.
Fact: Due to social conditions both suicide and self-harm are higher in working class areas but every class and area in Irish society experience loss through suicide and self-harm.
Myth: Only someone suffering a mental condition inflect self-harm or commit suicide.
Fact: A mental condition alone does not cause anyone to self-harm or to commit suicide. In fact anyone could potentially become suicidal or turn to self-harm, to cope. There is no one cause of suicide or self-harm. Many people internalise the pressures of the outside world and can potentially self harm not only in obvious ways but by using alcohol and other drugs.
Myth: Self-harm is always an attempted suicide.
Fact: Self-harm is most commonly used to give a sense of control to a person who feels their life is not in their control. It is also used as a way of coping or a serious cry for help. In our present society most people feel that their life is not their own.
Myth: Talking about suicide or self-harming puts the idea into someone’s mind.
Fact: The opposite is true. Silence around depression, mental health and self harm is a serious problem. Talking about issues can help a person. If they are not going to commit suicide, you cannot put the idea in their mind. If they are thinking of suicide or are self-harming you can only help by putting the issue out and talking about it.
Myth: There is very little or no suicide in Ireland today.
Fact: While Irish suicide rates have been traditionally low, it is now around the European average. 36% of all inquests land on suicide as the verdict of death. Suicide is also the main cause of death in young people in Ireland.
With these myths, stereotypes and stigma surrounding all forms of mental health it is easy to see why a lot of people suffering do not seek any of the limited help that is available to them. We have all seen the advertisements stating “I survived suicide, but the rumours left deeper scars” this is very true and Lisa, a single mother, had this to say about the stigma attached to mental health and self-harming:
“I have a young child and with all the cuts recently to lone parents, I can’t even afford to work. I have no one to mind my child and never get to see anyone. It’s really hard being alone so much of the time. When I get angry or stressed I take it out on myself by pulling my hair out or cutting myself. I always thought that depression was just a word people used as an excuse but it is not. It’s horrible to wake up and just feel so useless and alone. With the cuts to lone parents I can barely feed the two of us. It’s an escape when I hurt myself, just a way to feel alive when I am only barely existing. It’s worse when someone sees the scars or cuts and calls me weak or a failure as a mother. That just makes it much harder and much much worse.”
Lisa is not alone in this position. Many people are suffering under the latest budget and with this increases in pressure on everyday lives, it starts to explain why so many people are self-harming and taking their own lives. While many more people are screaming for help there is less and less available. Many have claimed suicide is just an easy way out for people but it is never an easy choice for those who make it.
How many suicide notes contain the words “I’m so sorry but I could see no other way”. Sarah attempted suicide and says “Everything was so dark. There was no help and when the doctor gave me a months’ supply of anti-depressants, I took them all just to feel happy or to at least end the suffering.” Everyone thought Sarah was the life of the party, a friend even commenting “ You never saw her without a smile”. This just puts an end to any thoughts that suicide is an easy option or that only certain types of people commit suicide or self-harm.
Is a better world possible?
We should continue to fight to highlight these issues. It’s important that the government are forced to face the facts and that society as a whole debate these issues. People need hope and that hope can only come by standing up for ourselves collectively. There is no individual answer to what are problems stemming from the very structure of a for profit society. As long as profit comes before mental health, and medicating is seen as a primary option as opposed to a debate on the nature of modern living, we will never move forward.
The best way to tackle feeling a loss of control over your world is to take control. That is why the battle against budget cuts and the confidence that ensues from such battles is an integral part of our ongoing battle to build a society where the needs both physical and spiritual of the people come before the needs of the profit system.
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