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Dublin: 2 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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Console executives' actions will make it harder to fund mental health services

David Healion argues that the non-profit sector will need to work hard to rebuild the trust of the public.

David Healion

This week more details emerged about the irregular spending practices by the executives of the mental health and suicide charity, Console.

€500,000 is alleged to have been spent on un-vouched cash withdrawals, foreign trips to places like New Zealand, Australia and Singapore, designer clothing, dental work, meals out in expensive restaurants and rugby world cup tickets.

I find this whole affair sickening for two reasons; one personal and one professional.

Funding mental health services
During my university years in DCU I began to slip into depression. By my final year it had gotten to the stage where I wasn’t attending classes or submitting course work. I would spend my days trying to distract myself from the thoughts in my head by immersing myself in society life in the university as well my role of Societies Officer.

I would often get home late in the evening and cry uncontrollably, and in the morning, climbing out of the warmth and security of my bed to face another day seemed like a mammoth task.

I was fortunate to have a good network of friends who looked out for me. After a breakdown in the Students Union offices, I sought help and began to attend counselling a few times a week. This helped me to manage my mental health and without that help I wouldn’t have graduated. I dread to think how much worse I could have been if I hadn’t gotten help when I did.

The counselling service in DCU was stretched to the limit and yet they managed to help so many young people every day, myself included.

That €500,000 wasted by Console could pay for another counsellor and help promote and maintain the student’s mental health call centre, Niteline.

Corruption

It infuriates me to hear stories of young people who struggle every day while corrupt executives spend money donated to their charity in good faith on frivolous lifestyles. People who should have been helped were not.

As more details emerge we see that this type of corruption could even be fatal. Console reduced its helplines from six to two. These helplines are for people who are suicidal. They are some of the most vulnerable people in our society and they have been let down by the actions of this corrupt group of people.

A recent report showed that the cost of corruption annually in Europe is €990 billion, just shy of one trillion euro per year. The €500,000 of misappropriated funds in Console are a part of that vast number.

Trust

We saw in the wake of the CRC controversy that people are less likely to trust charities and crucially less likely to donate where they are unsure of whether their money will be spent correctly.

It will be difficult to calculate the monetary effect that these controversies have on donations but we can safely assume that in the case of Console people will be less likely to donate.

Yet again we have a case of a small few corrupt individuals spoiling it for everyone else. Trust is being damaged and it takes time to rebuild that trust.

I would like to assure people that not all charities are the same. I am an executive of Anti-Corruption International, an NGO which relies on donations to survive. I get no wages and no expenses but I am happy doing the work for a cause that I believe in.

If we do get organisational grant funding and larger scale donations I would greatly appreciate and accept a modest salary to help my organisation and to allow me commit more time to furthering our objective of stamping out corruption.

I would call on the non-profit sector to release statements on their income and expenditure. Without complete transparency it will impossible to rebuild the trust that the corrupt few in Console have taken away.

Corruption affects us all. Real actions by real people for their own personal gain damages our society as a whole, both economically and socially. We must do all we can to fight the disease of corruption and likewise to fight the disease of depression in Ireland.

If you become aware of corrupt practices report them and if you are suffering in silence with your mental health please seek help.

David Healion is the Executive Director of External Relations at Anti-Corruption International.

Read: Poll: Will the Console controversy affect how you give money to charity?

Read: Concerns raised about finances at suicide charity Console

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