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Priest concerned by spike in Tipperary suicides

By Sarah Mac Donald - 23 November, 2019

Clonmel-based Fr Michael Toomey welcomed news that a Jigsaw project will be located in Thurles over the coming months but warned of a lack of acute and crisis mental health beds.

Fr Michael Toomey. Pic: RTE

Mental health campaigner, Fr Michael Toomey, has said he has dealt directly or indirectly with eight suicides in his locality in Co Tipperary since June.

He was speaking after it was announced on Tuesday that Jigsaw is opening of a new mental health outreach to young people in Thurles next year.

However, the announcement failed to impress some local campaigners who are angry that there are still no acute mental health beds in the whole of Tipperary despite the recent spike in suicides.

The Minister for Mental Health and Older People, Jim Daly, announced in Clonmel that Jigsaw’s new hub will be operational in Thurles from next year. He met with a delegation representing local Oireachtas and County Councillors on mental health care in Tipperary as well as members of the group ‘Tipp Fights for Mental Health’.

Fr Toomey has criticised Minister Daly’s failure to meet more frontline staff during his discussions in Tipperary as these could have given him a sense of just how “dire the lack of mental health support and the lack of beds are in the county,” the priest said.

He told CatholicIreland.net, “I am grateful that Jigsaw has been announced for Tipperary, and that Thurles has been chosen as the place where this facility will be based. I do hope, however, that proper adequate availability of the service will be made to all young people across the county, with specific hubs. While Thurles is the central location of the county, there is no easy public transport facilities for people to get there from Clonmel, Cahir or Carrick on Suir so I hope that those who really need the service will be supported with this issue.”

He said he hoped the lack of crisis beds, particularly in the south of the county, and the totally inadequate and appalling conditions in St Luke’s Kilkenny and more recently in the Department of Psychiatry in University Hospital Waterford were addressed by Minister Daly’s visit to Tipperary on Tuesday.

“There is not one single crisis Mental Health Bed available in Co Tipperary. This, despite the fact that Tipperary has the highest suicide rate outside of Dublin, and recent figures show that Clonmel has been hit by more suicides per capita than the rest of the country outside of Dublin,” Fr Toomey said.

He said that A&E departments across the county are, on an almost daily basis, stretched to the limit.

“The staff do outstanding work in appalling situations. And yet those with mental health emergencies have to also endure what any other patient has to, ending up often on trolleys with no privacy and dignity on a corridor which I have personally witness several times. Many are put off because of the illness, and the delays, and feel they are a burden for people who are really sick. But mental health crisis and illness is an emergency at times,” he explained.

However, the priest added, “For too long we have been promised to have the issues raised and proper crisis beds and supports available. While many supports are there, especially on www.yourmentalhealth.ie, as a port of call, along with the Samaritans and many other groups, a lack of information and accessibility to these supports is simply, not good enough.”

Thanking Minister Daly for his warmth and courtesy to him, he wished him “every good wish and blessing” for his retirement from politics. “He has done a lot of often unrecognised work in this area, and know he is still committed to helping as best he can with limited resources in government.”

“I do ask him to ensure that his successor is briefed fully on the issues and concerns we have raised here in Tipperary, and to assist in the smooth transition to the new minister to continue the work Minster Daly has proposed and identified during his time as Minister for Mental Health and Older People.”

Speaking to CatholicIreland.net, Fr Toomey, who is a curate at the Church of the Resurrection in Clonmel said, “While Jigsaw is a great benefit for mental health and there will be hubs available to Clonmel /Nenagh, there seems to be little information about how these will work or be staffed.”

In a statement, Tipperary’s Fight for Mental Health Services said a delegation representing the group had met with Minister Daly to discuss the ongoing situation of acute and crisis beds in Co Tipperary.

“Although we were disappointed that beds won’t be brought to the county for four or five years, we were delighted to have spoken to the Minister on a number of issues that will be beneficial over time,” the group said.

Tipperary’s Fight for Mental Health Services welcomed the news that a Jigsaw project for Tipperary would be based in Thurles. “As a committee we are delighted to say that Tipperary have been included as one of the 13 counties selected for this project that will be able to enhance better services for the county as a start.”

They also welcomed the new National Mental Health Line which will be launched on Thursday by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar.

“The committee sees this as a positive step and, as Minister Daly explained, this will be based in Tallaght in Dublin and will be manned with trained staff who will be able to provide the necessary information that is needed for those people who use the helpline.”

Minister Daly said in Clonmel on Tuesday that the sod will be turned on new buildings at the St Luke’s Campus in Clonmel for the new 10-bed crisis house and also the new building of a new unit for older people which will start in March 2020.

The HSE told CatholicIreland.net that Thurles was chosen as the location for the Jigsaw facility based on recommendations made by a multi-agency Advisory Group established to provide expert input and local knowledge.

A spokesperson added that this group also recommended the development and location of additional and linked outreach services in Clonmel and Nenagh.

Separately, a spokesperson for Minister Jim Daly confirmed that the new permanent 10-bed Crisis House will be developed on Glenconnor Road, Clonmel.

In a statement, the spokesperson for the Minister explained, “This project has been included in the HSE Capital Programme 2019, with an approved capital budget. Phase 1 of the new development will be a stand-alone contract for site Clearance and Enabling works. These Enabling Works will also provide site preparation for the proposed new 50-bed Community Nursing Unit, which is currently going through Planning process. It is expected that the Site Clearance/Enabling Works contract will commence in March 2020, with construction on the new Crisis House to commence shortly after.”

The Minister’s office explained that Jigsaw has been working with the HSE to finalise details of the new service, including access and transport considerations.

Supported by the HSE, Jigsaw’s youth mental health services are staffed by fully-trained professionals across a number of disciplines. They provide a range of community -based early intervention mental health services for young people aged 12-25 experiencing mild to moderate mental health difficulties.

The hub of a new Jigsaw service will be located in Thurles, with additional and linked outreach services in Clonmel and Nenagh. The service is  due to be operational next year. This will bring the number of Jigsaw services funded in communities across Ireland to 14.

The spokesperson also stressed that Tipperary suicide statistics of 8.5 per 100,000 “are marginally above the national average of 8.1” while South Tipperary “is below the national average in terms of suicides according to the most recent provisional statistics released by the CSO.”

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