Thursday, 3 June 2021
Mental Health During and Post Covid-19: Statements
Jackie Cahill (Tipperary, Fianna Fail)
I have a number of mental health matters to bring to the Minister of State's attention today, some of them unique to my constituency in Tipperary, whereas others can be seen on a national level.
I recognise the work put in by the Minister of State to the Jigsaw project in Tipperary, which will be based in my home town of Thurles. Since being first elected to the Dáil in 2016, this is something I have fought hard for. At that time, Deputy Helen McEntee was the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health and we were told we would have the facility in a couple of months. As with the changes to the fair deal scheme that the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, introduced to the Dáil a couple of weeks ago, she has delivered again with this project. I know she has put much work into it and I appreciate that this service will open in July for referrals.
Early intervention is absolutely essential when dealing with mental health and the Jigsaw project in Tipperary is a cornerstone in building mental health services in my county. I appreciate the work of the Minister of State and the officials in getting this delivered. We had many hiccups along the way and Covid-19 did not help in trying to meet targets. However, we are there now and we look forward to Jigsaw playing a key part in a mental health strategy for Tipperary.
We have a centre for Thurles but we will now look for hubs to open in both Nenagh and Clonmel. It is an essential part of the Jigsaw service that should be around Tipperary, which is a very large inland county. We need hubs in both Clonmel and Nenagh so services can be readily available to all our young people. I know the Minister of State will deliver on this and I very much look forward to that.
The size of my county leads me to my next point, which is the lack of psychiatric hospital beds in Tipperary. There are no such beds in a county of our size. I have spoken about this many times in the Dáil but, unfortunately, we are being blanked by the HSE. We are told there are sufficient beds in the south east or mid west, depending on whether a person is in the north or south of the county. We are told by the HSE that the ratio of mental health hospital beds for the areas is sufficient but there are no beds in Tipperary. When treating people with mental health issues, it is essential they are close to their families. People in the north of the county would have to travel to Ennis while people in the south would have to travel to Kilkenny and it is not possible to have the interaction they need with families to help bring about a good outcome for mental health problems.
I earnestly ask the Minister of State to get the HSE to re-examine this matter. We are not asking for a huge number of beds. We want a small number of psychiatric beds to cover north and south Tipperary. If we are to have a proper mental health service in Tipperary, psychiatric beds must be a cornerstone. The Minister of State has delivered Jigsaw for us in Tipperary and I earnestly ask for her to deliver those psychiatric beds for us as well.
I will speak about third level students, and I am thankful they will return to campuses in September. The leaving certificate results will come out in the first week of September and pupils will probably be two or three weeks later going to university. They have had a very hard time with Covid-19 and the availability of services to them on campuses this year will be extremely important.
We must have major investment in mental health supports in third level institutions right across the country. There are students in third level institutions in my county who have spent the past year studying from home. From dealing with student unions, the message is clear that they need far more counselling services on university and third level campuses, especially in-person counselling services. Face-to-face counselling is absolutely essential to these young people. They have sacrificed much during the pandemic and the past year and a half has had a major impact on them. I hope there will be extra resources for this area as they will pay dividends in the long run. Getting in with early intervention for these students could prevent major mental health problems for people in future.
I will also speak about people who have experienced mental health difficulties through the pandemic. Unfortunately, many people, through no fault of their own, have suffered financial difficulties and they are suffering mental health issues because they are under extreme pressure. We must get the message to them to seek counselling or seek help. Many people have been very successful in hospitality or tourism areas, or the many other sectors that have been badly affected, such as taxi drivers or track bookmakers - the list goes on - and they had their livelihood taken from them because of Covid-19. It was nobody's fault but as a result, people's mental health is under much pressure.
These are people who never knew what it was not to have resources to pay bills coming in through the door. For the past year and a half they have not had any income to meet outgoings, and this has put them under major pressure. We must get a message to these people that there is help and counselling available. They should go their local GP to get access to those services. It is a very important message to get out.
We have spoken about loneliness in older people who have had to self-isolate. Unfortunately, this is not just confined to rural areas and we saw the same in urban areas as well. The pandemic has compounded loneliness for many people. Older people need access to services and help. Loneliness is a major issue and after cocooning, there must be an effort to get people into the habit of going to day care services or meeting people. Older people can go into themselves so it is very important to get them to avail of the services for them. Work must be done to ensure there are day care and other services for older people so we can get them participating in society again. They have had a year and a half of sitting at home and insecurity may have set in with many of these older people, meaning that going out again takes effort. We must help them do that and these services are so beneficial to them.
There has been no way to have a traditional Irish funeral or an ability to mourn. Unfortunately, many older people have lost partners in the past year and a half and a lack of social interaction, including meeting family and friends, has had a great impact on people. That will bring its own mental health challenges as well.
The Minister of State has delivered for Tipperary and my home town of Thurles. I recognise that and welcome it most heartily. Nevertheless, there is still much to do in Tipperary. We lack mental health services in the county and as I have said many times previously in the House, we need psychiatric treatment beds. We do not want the HSE telling us we meet ratio requirements for the mid west or the south east. We want those beds in our own county. For people to get the best benefit from mental health services, it is essential that they stay close to their family. That cannot happen in Ennis or Kilkenny for the psychiatric patients from Tipperary. I know the Minister of State will do her best for us in Tipperary and I appreciate that but these psychiatric treatment beds are very important to us.