“Operation Transformation for the mind” – RTE’s The Frontline on depression

2 Feb

RTE’s The Frontline on 16 January looked at how Ireland can end the stigma surrounding mental health. You can watch the programme, in which participants gave dignified and candid accounts of their experiences of depression and suicide, here: http://www.rte.ie/player/#!v=1131292.  This prime-time programme devoted solely to the topic of mental illness is very timely and welcome.

Once again, the message was that we need an overhaul of our approach and attitudes to mental health. Whereas the number of road deaths halved between 2000 and 2010, the number of suicides was 486 in both of those years. Broadcaster George Hook and others made the point that we need a champion for suicide prevention in the model of the road safety movement.

As Pat Kenny put it, we need an Operation Transformation for the mind.

Phyllis Mac Namara spoke honestly and movingly about her husband Michael’s suicide and his rapid disintegration in the face of work-related anxiety. She believes that men, in particular, see their worth as connected with work, and that it is possible to live beside someone who is experiencing huge anxiety but to miss those changes. Phyllis recounted how, despite realising her husband was having a breakdown and the efforts of their GP, there was nowhere for Michael to seek appropriate help. She also described her realisation that anyone is capable of taking their own life having lost touch with reality through intense pressure.

Dr Ian Daly, HSE clinical director of mental health, said it is possible to do more with less despite cutbacks. At present, staff are poorly aligned based on the old asylum-based system, but current practice is about early intervention. In addition, the HSE needs to work closely with GP colleagues on a system of integrated care and is already partnering formally with volunteer partners.

Minister of State for Health Kathleen Lynch commented that there has been poor and slow implementation of the government’s Vision for Change since 2006. She agreed that it is possible to do more with less by providing a different type of service in which the bulk of resources is no longer tied up in big institutions and more is done within the community. She echoed the point made by Phyllis that the middle ground between GP and the acute unit is missing. Minister of State Lynch cited as a success story the Wexford psychiatric service in which the GP and community teams are key; voluntary acute admissions have fallen in that region by 50 per cent. She referred to the 35m euro being invested in mental health community teams, counselling and psychiatric services etc. Minister of State Lynch reiterated that it is essential that we talk about emotional well-being as a human condition.

JP Swaine of the First Fortnight music and arts festival, which aims to use the arts as a means to engage people with this topic, described suicide as an outcome, whereas mental health is a process that can be changed. As one in four of us will experience mental health problems, we need to tackle this as a community, not as a matter of them and us.

Other speakers included Ciaran Austin of Console; Joan Freeman of Pieta House; Michael Barron of BeLonGTo, the national service for gay and lesbian youth; Orla Barry of Mental Health Reform; David Carton of Aware; Madge Fogarty of the Post-Natal Depression Support Group; and Dr Eleanor Fitzgerald, a Mayo coroner and GP.

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