It's been an incredibly sad week for Galway - last weekend alone 5 people died by suicide, and so far this year the number for the county is 22. That's 22 people who should have been helped, 22 families pulled apart who will be living with a terrible legacy for generations. Last year there were 31 deaths by suicide for the entire year. It's still 31 too many, but what kind of figures are we looking at this year?? Suicide is reaching epidemic proportions, and yet nothing is being done.
A couple of stories have appeared today about the state of the psychiatric unit at Galway University Hospital, apparently staff have complained about under resourcing, over crowding, lack of facilities and extreme stress. This isn't new. I spent five weeks there last year and I could see all of that. I could see it in the nurses who didn't have time to talk, the lack of any form of therapy for patients, be that individual or group, the single psychologist who was covering the entire unit, both in and out patients, the length of waiting times for appointments, the lack of follow up in the community after I was discharged, the inconsistency..............none of it was acceptable, none of it. A few weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the HSE about all of this, needless to say it never got a response. So I'm trying again.
There is a huge push on this month to get people talking about mental health. It's wonderful to see, and badly needed. But it's not enough. It's barely the tip of the iceberg. See Change with their green ribbon campaign are doing incredible work to break down the stigma around mental illness. They want people to just have a conversation, admit that they might not be feeling ok, know that it's ok to ask for help. But here's the kicker - what about when someone finally realises they're not ok and finally takes the step of asking for help, what happens then? Well then we're into a whole other world of problems.
Some people, myself included, are lucky. I have a lot of awareness about mental illness, and over the years have built up a good support network. I know where to go when things get difficult. I know who to talk to. But let me make something really clear - it is still incredibly difficult to ask for help when it comes to mental illness. I cannot emphasise this enough. It's difficult for me, with years of therapy, lots of support and a very health relationship with my GP. It's difficult for me, someone who has been in the system of psychiatric care for over two years now. If things get bad for me between appointments with my psychiatrist, or rather, with her ever changing team, there is no quick fix. I'm a public patient, I don't get to just ring up and make an appointment. So together with my partner, my GP and my therapist I muddle through until such a time as I do get to see her, or her team. Managing my mental health is an on-going challenge, and will continue to be so.
We need so much more than people simply talking about mental health. It's a start, it's a fantastic start. But what we need even more now is people who are in a position to do something about it to start listening now that people are talking. We need resources to be put back in where they are so desperately needed. No one should be left waiting for months on end to even have an assessment prior to treatment, and then lefting waiting for months again for even one follow up appointment. Community care is absolutely vital, both to keep people out of hospital in the first place, and to help them re-adapt when they come home. Everyone who experiences problems with their mental health need access to talking therapies, not just medication. And those who are living with and looking after people experiencing mental health problems need support in their role as carers.
It's a huge problem, and it's getting worse. I've said it before. Mental illness is real, and and when severe, can be every bit as life threatening as serious physical illness. It can convince the mind that suicide is the only option. Mental illness can, and does, kill. Too many people have died. It has to stop.