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Priest urges people to join march for mental health services

By Sarah Mac Donald - 25 September, 2019

Fr Michael Toomey. Pic: RTÉ

Clonmel-based priest Fr Michael Toomey has urged people to take part in a march this Saturday afternoon to highlight the need for better mental health supports for the people of Tipperary.

Tipperary has the highest suicide level in the country outside of Dublin. The HSE recorded 18 suicides in the county last year – 14 males and four females.

Tipperary’s Fight for Mental Health Services group was set up three years ago in response to the number of suicides.

Fr Toomey is backing the group’s call for an acute psychiatric facility for Co. Tipperary.

It is the second march on this issue to be held in Clonmel; the last rally drew a crowd of over 1,000 people in June 2018.

In 2012 St Michael’s psychiatric unit in Clonmel was closed down with the promise that an alternative and better quality service would replace it. However, there is anger locally over the fact that this has yet to materialise seven years on from the closure.

Spokesperson for Tipperary’s Fight for Mental Health Services group, Maurice Cagney, explained that as there are currently no beds for acute psychiatric patients in crisis situations in Tipperary, patients in the north of the county must travel to Ennis, while patients in the south are referred to Kilkenny.

“It’s not right that in 2019 we have to send Tipperary patients to other counties to be treated,” Mr Cagney told a meeting recently.

He added, “The sad fact of the matter is that for each and every one of the people who lost their lives there was not one acute or crisis bed available in Tipperary.

“The people from South Tipperary are being sent to an overcrowded and overworked hospital in Kilkenny. The people from North Tipperary are also being sent to an overcrowded and overworked hospital in Ennis, where people are waiting for between four to six months to see a psychiatrist.”

Speaking to Tipp FM, Fr Toomey said he was thankful that a lot of people are now speaking up if they have a mental health issue.

“Any time I deal with a suicide, and sadly I had to deal with one again last week in my old parish in Tramore, I say to people if you have something on your mind, speak.

“We are encouraging people to speak out; the problem is that so many are talking out, the service isn’t actually able to cope at times.”

He acknowledged that there are a lot of services available but suggested that there is “a disconnect” between those services and that this is causing problems.

“It is up to the State to provide the actual mental healthcare facilities. The funding isn’t there, the staff isn’t there, we have no mental health crisis beds in Tipperary and so we are referred to Kilkenny which was deemed completely inappropriate in February.”

The priest explained that he deals with the aftermath of a suicide.

“While there are resources out there, we still do not have proper mental health beds and that is why I would encourage people on Saturday to come to this march. I wouldn’t be one for protesting but this is so important because there is a huge amount of young people and not so young people with mental health issues with crises. While there are certain services there, it is far from adequate.”

Maurice Cagney explained that Saturday’s march is “an awareness march”.

“We want this to be brought into the open and talked about. In 2018, 352 people lost their lives to suicide in Ireland, 282 men and 70 women. Last year 149 people lost their lives on the roads – suicide is nearly double that and yet it is not tackled or talked about in the same way.”

The rally is due to take place in Clonmel at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday 28 September.

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