TWO TARGETED COUNSELLING services have been shortlisted for social entrepreneurship awards for the work they are carrying out with Travellers and pregnant women.
Social Entrepreneurs Ireland have whittled over 200 entries for its annual funding down to a shortlist of 20, including Nurture and the Traveller Counselling Service.
Both movements are filling a gap for patients who may not have access to mental health care due to public waiting lists or other barriers to service.s
Thomas McCann, a psychotherapist, set up his counselling service to provide supports within the culture, traditions, norms and values of the Traveller community.
He is a member of the community and explains that his experiences with his own family encouraged him into training as a psychotherapist.
“There is a mental health crisis now,” he tells TheJournal.ie. “Suicide rates are seven times higher than they are in the settled community. There is also a high rate of dependency on anti-depressants and an unusually high percentage of Travellers in the Central Mental Hospital”.
There are also issues surrounding drugs and alcohol within the community.
McCann would like to see fresh funding – SEI offer €420,000 to successful projects – to widen his culturally inclusive services.
“The next stage of the project is to create partnerships in local areas with all the stakeholders,” he says. “We want to put more counsellors in more areas that have an understanding and respect the norms and traditions.”
He notes that there is still a stigma about mental health care in the community, something that has been compounded by bad experiences with healthcare workers in the system.
“There is a huge element of shame and a reluctance to engage because of previous treatment. They can feel like they will be blamed for their problems,” he added.
“Mental health has been on the periphery for too long and now that it is being brought into focus, marginalised communities need to be brought into it too.”
Irene Lowry, a counsellor from Rush in county Dublin, also spotted a gap in public health services which was creating a problem.
Waiting times for women with issues surrounding pregnancy and childbirth had hit nine months and she felt the personal devastation that came as a result.
She saw two young mothers die by suicide as they tried to battle post-natal depression.
It, understandably, had a profound effect on her, motivating her to take action.
She turned a section of her house into the centre for Nurture, a charity to provide affordable counselling to women with post-natal depression.
In three years, it has grown into an all-Ireland service with 19 counsellors in 14 counties. They offer support and counselling now for all aspects of conceiving, pregnancy and childbirth.
Lowry herself works an 80 hour week and takes a salary of just €12,000 a year. She is hoping that funding from SEI will allow her to pay volunteers to come in as more consistent staff.
“We have no waiting lists. A woman calls us in distress, we will see her within a week and for a lower fee than private practice.”
SEI will spend a number of days over the summer with McCann, Lowry and the other successful applicants to “refine and develop their potentially game-changing ideas”. The winners will be announced at a ceremony in November.