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New Donegal centre hopes to tackle mental health issues and rural isolation

The HSE area manager in Donegal explains what they hope to achieve by making a ‘one stop shop’ for mental health services.

Rural isolation and mental health.
Rural isolation and mental health.

A NEW COMMUNITY Mental Health Service building is to be built on the campus of Donegal Community Hospital in Donegal Town.

This €2 million development will deliver a modern centre for Community Mental Health services in the South Donegal area.

The issue of mental health and suicide in rural areas in Ireland is something that has been raised time and time again, which is why John Hayes, the HSE Area Manager for Donegal says investment like this is what is badly needed in mental health services in Ireland’s countryside.

The construction of a new purpose-built Mental Health and Child and Family Services building on the Donegal Community Hospital campus will replace and enhance those services currently provided from a number of different locations within Donegal Town.

Mental health services

The 680 square metre two storey building has been designed as a modern, well equipped, accessible premises which is user friendly and will accommodate the needs of those availing of Mental Health services.

The new centre will provide the consultant-led medical services for Adult Mental Health, Child and Family Mental Health, outpatient clinics, clinical nurse specialists, visiting psychiatry of Old Age Services amongst others.

The annual report from the National Office of Suicide Prevention states that the suicide rate in the Dongal region has fallen over the past few years, but increasing numbers of suicides have been linked to rural isolation, with many campaigns beginning to target certain areas.

Speaking to, Mr Hayes said that ever since the closure of large scale mental health instiutuions there has been a number of mental health initiatives launched around the region of Donegal, but he said the ideal is to have all them together, rather than have them dotted around

Just an illness

“By having our mental health services on the same campus has the regular hospital, it removes the stigma of mental illness, it can be seen as what it is – just another illness, no different,” he said.

“Clearly, Donegal is an area where deprivation is high. There is high unemployment rate and there is a high medical card holders rate – about 58 per cent of the population. People in Donegal could be experiencing mental health issues because of rural isolation. You have to look at it in terms of limited services – there is a lack of public transport, therefore there can be a barrier to social supports. While others may have a lot of contact and support from others, people in rural areas can simply find it difficult to reach those supports because of where they live,” he said.

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“Donegal, like many other areas in Ireland has experienced suicide. In Donegal we had the suicide of the two young sisters, Erin and Shannon Gallagher. It was very difficult for the family and the community. What we have to aim to do is improve services so that they are accessible to everyone,” he said.

Mr Hayes said that despite cutbacks there were a number of new initiatives launched in the last few years, such as Jigsaw, a youth mental health initiative that has been in operation for just one year.

Young people

He said that the issue with young people and mental health problems is they don’t talk about it and they don’t want the fuss of looking for support. “The Jigsaw initiative has been hugely successful in the area. The service aims to bring young people to the service without stigma. Since it has been launched, more than 200 young people have accessed the service,” he said.

Jigsaw is an initiative with no barriers, explained Mr Hayes, who said that young people can either be reffered to the service by their GP or they can self refer. “Often children and young people are wary, afraid or embarressed about going to their family doctor. This way, young people can just walk in and have a consultation with a trained consultant. The young person is offered one to six sessions free of charge. Of the 200 that have accessed the service, 50 per cent had self reffered, which just goes to show how important it is to remove the barriers and red tape to mental health services,” Hayes said.

He added that he hoped this centre would become a “one stop shop” for mental health in Donegal.

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