Crisis in mental health services due to lack of funding

Mental health services in Ireland are improving – but not quickly enough, say Irish mental health support services.

Although the standard of mental health resources available in Ireland have been improving steadily over the last few years, it has not yet reached the capability of being able to cope with the nationwide demand. Jigsaw Galway, a free support services for young people between the ages 12-25 living in Galway city and county, is one such example, as the organisation is currently experiencing a waiting list of five months.

Eoghan MacDomhnaill, the service manager for Jigsaw Galway, said: “I think that there is a benefit that we’ve had people feeling more open to talk and the crisis element that comes into it is the provision of services through the state. For ourselves in Jigsaw, we’re running as fast as we can to try to keep up.

“We’re operating at full tilt, and it’s now gone to the point where we’re working through things as fast as we can to an appropriate level, but we’re very committed to making sure that we do the quality piece.”

Mind and Body Works is a mental health service that provides psychotherapy and counselling in a variety of different ways to clients. They are one of the few services that also offer low-cost therapy provided by masters students undergoing training. Trisha Mac Hale, manager and director of Mind and Body Works Galway, said that she receives an average of three calls a day for low-cost therapy and their waiting list for that service was up to three months during the summer. They also have a waiting list for full price therapy.

Ms Mac Hale described the growth in the demand as “bittersweet”. On one hand, it is progress that people are becoming more open-minded to mental health issues and thus seeking out support, but on the other hand, the services available are inadequate and underfunded to support said demand. Although the 2023 Budget is promising to invest over €1.2 billion to mental health services (the most it has ever invested before), it is still a system that is dealing with years of underfunding and lack of support.

“It is very difficult for people because by the time they ring either the therapist or go through me I would have to say ‘well I just have to come back to you or get somebody to come back to you’ and if you’re at that point of crisis yourself you’re kind of feeling ‘Oh my God I’ve actually picked up the courage to actually make that phone call and now you’re saying to me well you’re going to have to wait for somebody to come back you’,” said Ms. Mac Hale.

When asked about the demographic of people calling to avail of their services, Ms. Mac Hale recounted that men and women in their mid to late 20s in particular were seeking out support. “A lot of it brings people that age in is so ‘here I am I put a lot of this time and effort and energy into this degree and money and finances and what is there left for me in this country and how do I identify?’ People are kind of like ‘how do I make a living in Ireland, how do I stay in Ireland, how do I buy a home, how do I get away from my family’ that kind of thing. Almost like people go from straight to school to college and then it’s like ‘oh God what now’”

The onset of COVID also contributed to the spike in interest for mental health services. Many people lost their jobs, children had to stay at home putting a lot of pressure on parents, university students missed out on in-person interactions, and couples in relationships spent more time together than they otherwise would have before.

“People were at home and everything that they knew and everything that they identified with in their world was taken away from them, so people’s worlds got very small. I really feel that the onset of COVID brought on a huge amount of anxiety in the community and what we are looking at now is the aftermath of trauma. The demand started to grow, and the services did not grow with demand, and I think that therapy, in terms of funding, has been completely underfunded for the community.

“It’s possible to meet the demand if everybody could afford to pay full price which people just can’t afford so if you’re meeting the demands of the community, you’re going to have people who are looking at, currently in the economic climate, paying your bills or going to therapy,” explained Ms. Mac Hale.

Undergoing therapy training is an expensive ordeal. Most training courses in Ireland require that students must attend weekly therapy with qualified therapists to become qualified themselves. This costs them between 60 to 80 euro per session. Then, they’re required to do 250 hours of free therapy to clients during which they have to pay a supervisor of around 80 euro a week, on top of paying college fees. Once qualified, there are very few jobs available for them and so they go to private practices and charge more money which is oftentimes unaffordable to the general public.

So what needs to happen? Mr. MacDomhnaill believes: “additional funding is required as a whole not just for Jigsaw but for health services in the country”. Ms. Mac Hale agreed: “I think what’s happening is that everything has been left charities to fundraise for themselves, you can see the low-cost charities around Galway constantly having to fundraise. You give to charities but still are put on waiting lists because the charities can’t accommodate the demand. So funding is a huge thing.”

According to Mr. MacDomhnaill: “we’re never going to eradicate mental health issues. It’s about trying to get to a place where we’re so comfortable within the country that providing the services is almost easy, not because there’s little to do, but because it’s a more straight line approach.”

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