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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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Depression, bipolar and borderline personality disorder: A long road to diagnosis

TheJournal.ie speaks to three young people living with mental health conditions.

WE OFTEN TALK about the road to recovery but for many living with mental health conditions, it is the first step to diagnosis which is often the most difficult.

Yesterday, the latest HSE performance reports showed that children and teens are waiting more than 12 months for mental health appointments in the public system.

The new report – looking at the first two months of the year – shows 182 teenagers and children in January and 177 in February who had to wait 12 months or more for an appointment.

There is a gulf between those who can access private care and those who can’t afford to.

Earlier this week, Mental Health Reform expressed its ‘huge disappointment’ and “severe concern” at the “lack of detail” in the Programme for Government with regard to the provision of public services (although there was a mention that budgets should be increased).

The #IAmAReason hashtag took Twitter by storm a few weeks ago when the controversial news came that €12 million that had been earmarked for mental health services was being moved to other health spending.

The hashtag aimed to send a clear message to the government: that behind the statistics were real experiences of people suffering from mental illnesses.

TheJournal.ie speaks to three young people about their experiences of trying to make the first step to diagnosis through the public and private mental health systems.

Lorcan Gormley

Lorcan Gormley is a 27-year-old pharmacist working in Dublin and is originally from Donegal. He was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) after a long and difficult experience of mental health issues, which culminated with two suicide attempts in 2012.

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“Looking back I’ve had it since I was very young,” he says.

It was when he was studying pharmacy at Trinity that things got worse. His first brush with mental health services came when he went to see his college doctor after experiencing a breakdown in his second year.

“I was sent to the college counsellor, but I mean all the college counsellors were pretty over-subscribed anyway. I didn’t really click with him at all,” he explains.

They kind of fiddled around with the anti-depressants, increased the dosage. It wasn’t really doing much, and then I eventually had to come off them because I felt they were making me really angry.

Looking back, he says he can see that these were all the hallmarks of BPD.

Eventually, Lorcan was referred to the Cherry Orchard Psychiatric Unit by another GP, where he received his diagnosis of BPD.

He was referred to Pieta House and then to a counsellor.

“Two weeks after that I had my first suicide attempt.”

The help Lorcan got was all through the private system, and being put on a public waiting list was never an option due to the severity of his condition.

He has been attending counselling now for several years and has improved his mental health hugely in that time, but is quick to point out that he was lucky that he was able to do this as he was working and had the money to pay for the services.

“That’s the other cruelty of the system, is that it’s offered privately if you have the money,” he says.

Lorcan strongly feels that the services in place are not adequate, and says a lot of suicides are quite preventable.

That’s the saddest thing, a lot of it is preventable without huge expenditure. But it’s just not there.

“People are going to die because of it. I don’t want to be dramatic by saying that, but it’s just a fact.”

Courtney Smyth

Courtney Smyth is a 21-year-old student of psychology from South Dublin. She has had a number of different diagnoses over the years, starting with seasonal affective disorder, and eventually with borderline personality disorder and bipolar (type two).

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“I knew I had some form of depression since I was a kid,” she says.

“Even then, the option of going through the public system – nobody said it to you… I think from the get go, this generation has been struggling with where to get the help from. So in recent years, I’ve taken it into my own hands, where I’ve gone and asked for help.”

This decision to take matters into her own hands also came when she was in her second year at college and she visited the GP there.

However she didn’t get a proper diagnosis until she went through the Dean Clinic, a part of St. Patrick’s hospital – something she was only able to get through her parents’ insurance.

“At the time in my local mental health service, there was supposed to be two psychologists, except there were none,” she says.

“One of them went on maternity leave with no cover, and the other had just left, and no replacement had been offered. It was a seven month waiting list, so the earliest I would have been seen at that point – and that was in June – was in November.

At this time, I was incredibly suicidal, crying all the time, unable to work… I felt constantly guilty because I wasn’t able to get myself out of this rut.

Courtney’s mental health continued to worsen.

“I contacted my psychiatrist in my mental health service, and she wasn’t there. I spoke to a mental health nurse, and said, ‘This is the situation. I’m really suicidal. I’m afraid I’m going to do something, and I really need help at this point, and I need a referral to St. Pat’s.’

“I was told when I called that mental health nurse, ‘Your psychiatrist isn’t here, do you think you can wait a week?’ As if it wasn’t a medical emergency. If I called and I said ‘my arm is bleeding, I’m about to bleed out and die’, they’d have gone ‘oh yeah, straight away’, but I was asked could I wait a week.”

After spending five weeks in St. Patrick’s, her situation was much improved. However as her insurance ran out in January, she was referred back to her local service at that point, and put on a list to wait for therapy.

“I still had days where I was in crisis again. I’m starting it [therapy] next week, but I actually feel guilty, because I know there are people who are worse off than me right now who could benefit from it so much more than I probably could.”

Kat O’Connor

Kat O’Connor is a 21 year old student of journalism at Ballyfermot College of Further Education (BCFE).

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When she was 17, depression and anxiety became a problem for her.

“It got really, really bad last year to a point where I couldn’t leave my house, I couldn’t even bring myself to go to college. Even though the course I was in – Oh my God, I adored it – but I couldn’t even get myself up out of bed.”

Despite being hesitant about seeking help, Kat eventually went to her GP.

“It was nerve-wracking; it really was, because there is a stigma.

“My doctor is lovely, he’s a really, really great doctor, but I just felt like it was a lost cause going to him because it was just the same old ‘do you want to go to a counsellor?’ and I was like ‘I have no part-time job, I have no grant’. I couldn’t bring myself to ask my parents for that kind of financial help.”

The trip to the doctor spurred Kat into action, but there was no immediate help offered.

“I said no way to pills, and whatever he was offering. I didn’t want to rely on pills.”

Instead, she took to writing in journals, speaking to friends and family about what she was experiencing and, gradually, things started to improve.

Kat says that the news that €12 million was being relocated was “devastating”, saying that it made her feel “embarrassed to be Irish and to have a government that just cares so little”.

“Our government have made me ashamed to be Irish,” Kat says.

“I don’t relate to our country. There’s so much wrong to it that makes me feel like I don’t want to live here. I feel so unsupported, there’s nothing here for me as a 21-year-old woman.”

 If you need to talk, contact:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

Related: ‘See you in two minutes, ma’: A 15-year-old boy’s last words to his mother

Read: Here’s what the government plans to do about housing and mental health

More: Children and teens waiting over 12 months for a mental health appointment

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About the author:

Patrick Kelleher

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