Virginia Moyles and Maria Lawton-Murray have had first-hand experience of how Ireland’s public health service treats people with mental health problems. Both women have suffered issues around mental health and are now drawing on their experiences to drive change in what they describe as a “one-size-fits-all” approach to treatment.
Through the group, Cosáin, they are offering a more holistic approach to mental wellness, one which encourages people to live a good, meaningful life, supported by their peers.
“People go into illness in different ways and come out of it in different ways,” says Maria, who turned her life around after being on medication for 20 years. She was initially diagnosed with depression and later as being bi-polar. The pills treated the symptoms but left her feeling numbed.
‘Numbed’ is also the word that Virginia uses. Both women recognise that medication can have a role in helping people, but feel it shouldn’t be a long-term solution to mental health issues. In fact, they say, its side effects can often impede recovery.
The women are not advising people to abandon medication, and stress that any changes in treatment should occur under medical supervision. What they are saying is that there are different pathways to recovery, something that should be reflected in how people are treated.
Mental health is a complex issue and the long-held scientific belief that problems are caused by a chemical imbalance is being increasingly challenged, according to Virginia.
“People’s symptoms are often a natural response to a hurtful experience in their lives,” she says. “There’s a huge amount of evidence to show how it’s caused by trauma of some kind.”
And that doesn’t have to be a major trauma, the women explain, it could be something as simple as growing up without emotional support at home.
While medication has a place, Maria and Virginia felt that being on it long-term affected their quality of life.
“After 20 years, it didn’t work for me,” says Marie of her own experience. It wasn’t solving the underlying issues and she couldn’t recover until that happened.
“I had to go back and find the source and address it.”
Maria, who previously worked as a carpenter, is currently employed by the HSE on a pilot scheme as a mental health peer-support worker. She’s assisting people who have had mental health problems to return to the community.
“A lot of people haven’t learned how to emotionally self-regulate,” says Maria. Being on medication doesn’t allow you to learn how to do that, which is a problem because “you have to learn to work through the emotions”.
In her case, Maria had becomed so numbed from pills that she had to give up her passions of work and exercise. That’s when the sports fan who had been the first woman to referee National League soccer games in Ireland really decided to quit medicating.
“I had to get fit, lose weight and try to find like-minded people.
For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Meeting hears of “devastating impact” of Huntington’s on families
The Minister of State for Disability at the Department of Health has acknowledged the devastating impact which Huntington’s Disease has on the entire family.
Galway East TD Anne Rabbitte met with families affected by the disease at the Huntington’s Disease Association of Ireland annual meeting in Ballinasloe.
The Minister spoke positively about her intention to ensure families affected by HD will have access to necessary services and that family carers, who often care for several family members, have assistance.
She acknowledged the vital need for HD specialist support in the community to overcome the misunderstanding and stigma associated with the disease over generations.
The Minister also confirmed her priority to fully resource at least four of the seven required community neuro-rehabilitation teams around the country.
A member of a family affected by HD in County Galway said: “It is very encouraging to have Minister Rabbitte speak at our meeting to acknowledge the huge struggles families face.
“Huntington’s Disease desperately needs more recognition, more specialist support and more awareness from healthcare professionals; policy makers; and the general public.
“As children we grew up watching our Dad help care for Mum and just a few years later he had to start over with my older brother.
“Now my sister has symptoms and it is an ongoing struggle to get her the care and support she needs. HD families can overcome the fear and stigma associated with this disease if we know there are sufficient resources to ensure health and social care professionals can understand and help,” he said.
Huntington’s Disease affects the body’s nervous system – the network of nerve tissues in the brain and spinal cord that co-ordinate your body’s activities. This leads to progressive deterioration – physically, cognitively, and mentally until the individual becomes dependent on the help of others. Symptoms include motor (movement), mental health (for example mood) and cognitive (for example learning and thinking) disturbances, which in the majority of cases appear in mid-adult life.
Approximately 1,000 people in Ireland live with symptoms of HD or with the altered gene that triggers the disease. There are more than 3,000 people nationwide who are living at risk of developing the disease and hundreds of family carers left to struggle without adequate supports.
Despite the impact on families, from one generation to the next, there is little awareness of the condition and very limited specialist services. Unlike most other European countries, Ireland has no specialist multidisciplinary services or HD specialist nurses. By comparison, Scotland, with a similar-sized population have 10 regional multidisciplinary clinics with a team of 19 HD specialists offering outreach support throughout the country.
Concerns over day care move
Day care services at St Brendan’s Community Nursing Unit – which have been suspended for the past 18 months – have re-opened at the Loughrea Hotel.
Services restarted on Monday following a lengthy search for a suitable premises, and expected to continue operating from the hotel for around 18 months while an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus is “repurposed” by the HSE.
However, at least one local councillor has expressed concerns that the same level of services will not be available at the hotel.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) ordered the closure of day services at St Brendan’s, so that the space could be used by permanent residents of the nursing unit for dining and activities such as cooking and baking.
Local area councillor Michael ‘Moegie’ Maher said that between the hotel and St Brendan’s hospital, a day care service will now be available on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with the capacity to serve 86 people every week.
“The service is vital to Loughrea and East Galway. Everyone was very disappointed to see the day service suspended. We all have neighbours and friends who use the service and this was a vital lifeline for them, allowing them to socialise with others, to have a lovely meal together and to have any minor medical issues dealt with.
“I’m delighted that a suitable premises has been found in Loughrea town, which has been the traditional location for the service and also offers users a chance to avail of other services in our local town. The Loughrea Hotel is the perfect location with all of the necessary services on site and is easily accessed by the service users”, the Fine Gael councillor and Cathaoirleach of Loughrea Municipal District said.
However, Independent councillor Geraldine Donohue raised concerns about the level of services that will be provided and said she had been asked by constituents how much the temporary service was going to cost.
“I believe that HIQA should have been challenged from the outset for our purpose built Seven Springs Day Care Centre to remain at St Brendan’s. As far as operating Day Care Services from the Loughrea Hotel, I have concerns that the services that the attendees enjoyed at Seven Springs will not be available at the Loughrea Hotel,” she said.
Meanwhile Galway East TD Ciarán Cannon said HSE management are also planning to repurpose an existing building on the St Brendan’s campus to establish a permanent home for the day care service.
He said he had attended a site meeting recently to identify potential buildings on the campus.
“We now need to begin developing a permanent home for the service at St Brendan’s as it makes sense from so many perspectives to have the service on campus.
“At our site meeting we walked the campus and have identified a number of potential locations. The HSE’s building management team will now create a shortlist of locations and ultimately a decision on the final location will be made in consultation with staff.
“The intention is to partner with the Topping Trust, a local charity, to create a state-of-the-art day care facility at St Brendan’s to open in the shortest possible timeframe. We are all working towards that outcome and there’s a serious sense of urgency attached to the project,” said Deputy Cannon.
Plant closure’s sour note for Council rates income
Focus has shifted towards finding a new use for the soon-to-be disused milk bottling plant in Kilconnell – as the County Council faces a hole in its budget due to a loss of rates income.
Despite the best efforts of local councillors, TDs and industry representatives, Arrabawn’s decision to withdraw from Kilconnell appeared to be irreversible, the Ballinasloe Municipal District meeting was told.
Local representatives met with the board of Arrabawn in Nenagh in the immediate aftermath of their decision and Cllr Michael Connolly (FF) said it was his sense that “there was no going back”.
“The whole business has changed. Even previous to the energy crisis, the plant was operating at a loss.
“We have to see that the plant is put to some alternative use – maybe a cheese manufacturing plant . . . maybe a brewery,” said Cllr Connolly, adding that the company had made it clear there would not be a milk production plant in Kilconnell again.
“They did say they would look at a joint-venture, or to sell it,” he said.
Cllr Evelyn Parsons (Ind) said she took a different view and would “never say never”, adding that she felt the company had engaged very well with local representatives.
“I wouldn’t write it off completely,” said the Cathaoirleach of the Ballinasloe MD.
“I would hope there would be a fresh imagining of the premises and that it doesn’t become a derelict site in one of our most beautiful villages,” continued Cllr Parsons.
Cllr Dermot Connolly (SF) said this month’s decision to close the plant, which followed the sale of Arrabawn’s liquid sales book to the Aurivo co-op, was “capitalism at its worst” and had come as a devastating blow to the farming and rural economy in east Galway.
“We need to ensure that the maximum number of jobs are maintained in Kilconnell and that whoever has to take redundancy gets a good redundancy payment.
“Arrabawn did say that they were looking to explore ways milk could still be brought to the plant in Kilconnell and that there might be some way of processing milk to be maintained there . . . it is vital this facility is maintained there,” said Cllr Connolly.
County Council Director of Services, Liam Hanrahan, said the loss of commercial rates for the plant, the loss of employment and the future use of the buildings in Kilconnell were all high on the Council’s agenda.
“The loss of rates is a concern. We have expressed our concern on the loss of our rates base to the Department [of Local Government].
“We don’t want to see a large industrial plant left vacant in a small town like Kilconnell. It doesn’t take long for a building to become derelict,” said Mr Hanrahan.
“The County Council will be more than happy to sit down with anyone who takes an interest in that – the last thing we want to see is a building become derelict and become a drain on everyone’s resources,” he continued.
Cllr Timmy Broderick (Ind) said the looming energy crisis could see a repeat of this scenario in towns across the county.
“Arrabawn could pale in significance to the challenge coming down the road.
“We need to ensure we stand behind eery industry facing this in the not-too-distant future. There is a train crash coming down the line,” he said of the increased cost of running a business.