Helen McEntee, centre, launches new Connecting for Life Mid-West strategy at LIT Picture: Press 22
THERE were tearful scenes as heartbroken families heard the harrowing details of the suicides of a 15-year-old girl and a grandfather at separate inquests held in Limerick this week.
The teenager’s inquest, held at the HSE buildings on Catherine Street, heard that when the father discovered his daughter in a motionless state in the bathroom, he attempted to resuscitate her by giving CPR. She was later pronounced dead at University Hospital Limerick.
Coroner John McNamara, expressing his condolences to the parents, described these deaths as “a worst nightmare for any parent”.
In the second inquest, a grief-stricken wife sat beside the coroner as the court heard her account of her husband’s self-inflicted death, on December 27.
The inquest heard that when she walked into the kitchen that morning, she read a note on the table saying “Don’t go to the shed, call the gardaí”.
In the shed, she found her husband’s body “cold and still”. After examining evidence presented in both cases, which were hangings, Mr McNamara gave a verdict of suicide.
These two heartbreaking hearings came a day after the government launched its Mid-West strategy for improving mental health services by 2020, at Limerick Institute of Technology.
The Connecting for Life strategy is contained in an 85-page HSE report, which shows that Limerick city’s suicide and self-harm rate, per capita, has been significantly higher than the national average in recent years.
According to the report, the rate of suicide in Limerick city increased by 43.9% since 2006. In the 2004-2006 period, there were 16.4 suicides per 100,000 people, while there were 23.6 suicides in the 2013-2015 timeline. Limerick county has the lowest rate of suicides in the Mid-West with 9.7 deaths per 100,000.
Minister of State for Mental Health, Helen McEntee welcomed the launch of the report this Monday. She said that the strategy looks at “the local communities and how it is working on the ground and how it is affecting people on the ground”.
Also present at the launch was Majella Cosgrove, who has been vocal about how her son Derek, who was recovered from the River Shannon, was “failed by the mental health service”.
Ms Cosgrove, of Clareview, has established a taskforce over the past two weeks, which will see a multitude of service providers, service users and frontline workers coming together to address needs in mental health services.
After Minister McEntee spoke with Ms Cosgrove about the group, the Fine Gael TD told the media that it was “the next step” in the Government’s new strategy.
“What she is talking about, really, is about what we are talking about here today. What she would like to see is more on the ground, as well. So, from the individuals on a daily basis, that it is linked up completely. She is looking to establish a group that will work with local services, local organisations and local groups. I think it is the next step of Connecting for Life, anyway, so it’s about helping her move that forward,” the Minister said.
Ms Cosgrove raised other issues with the Minister, including a two-tier public-private healthcare system; equality of rights for people suffering with mental illnesses; the importance of informing carers and family members on side effects and changes of medication; the provision of mainstream services for those in recovery; and the tracking of interventions and monitoring of a client.
Ms Cosgrove told the Leader that people with mental health issues are “not treated the same as someone with a physical illness”, and that people with mental health problems should be treated equally. She added that there are “long waits” to see a crisis nurse when presenting at the emergency department.
“I experienced Derek being shouted at and sent home while he was psychotic, because there were traces of hash in his system. If I went into A&E with a collapsed lung, would I have been shouted at and sent home, because I smoke? I don’t think so,” she said.
She added that while autonomy and confidentiality are important in medical practice, they should not act as an “automatic barrier” to the treatment and monitoring of people with mental health problems, particularly when they are supported by family.
“While I would have been fully supportive of Derek making his own decision about his treatment, and his right to change medication, I was not aware this had happened or advised that I may need to watch out for and respond to changes in Derek’s behaviour,” she explained.
Former Government TD and president of Irish Association of Suicidology, Dan Neville also said that it is important that mental illness is perceived similarly to physical illness.
“We still have to recognise that it is still a very societal issue in relation to the whole area of stigma surrounding mental health issues.
“When I started campaigning to decriminalise suicide in the early 1990s, nobody could envisage that we could have such a debate nationally in relation to our mental health services and suicide prevention. So, that is progress, but it is on a continuum that we have a long way to go, in relation to having the same acceptance, by those who suffer, by their families and by their society, that mental illness is similar to physical illness.”
Meanwhile, St Anne’s Day Hospital, which treats more than 2,000 people annually, has been without a vital clinical psychologist for nearly 10 months. The post at the Roxboro Road facility has been left vacant since August due to a “long term illness” and will not be filled until the end of June, a spokesperson for the HSE said. When the Limerick Leader asked Minister McEntee about this issue, she said that clinical psychologist deficits is a “worldwide issue”.
“There is a shortage worldwide, so we are obviously doing everything that we can to try and attract them to Ireland and keep them here.”
If you have been affected by this story contact
Aware (1800 80 48 48)
The Samaritans (116 123)
Pieta House (1800 247 247)