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Opinion: 'A 'new profile' of women are taking their own lives in the same numbers as men'

For women who can barely afford to feed and clothe their children, private counselling services are not even an option, writes Tara Deacy.

Tara Deacy Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force

A LEAKED INTERNAL HSE memo recently revealed official concern over an increase in the rate of suicide among young women with children in some of the most disadvantaged parts of Dublin south central.

The memo referred to a ‘new profile’ of women taking their own lives in the same numbers as men.

It also acknowledged some of the incredibly difficult issues facing these young mothers, including poverty, early school leaving, domestic violence, criminality, homelessness, adverse childhood experiences and recreational and problematic drug use.

Mental health

In my work in Clondalkin Drugs Task Force, I am all too aware – and in particular over the last few years – that coping with just one of these issues would put a strain on anyone’s mental health.

But for women who face all of these issues, all of the time, the chances of maintaining good mental health are slim to nil. In my work, I have met many young mothers who are constantly worried and anxious about how they will keep a roof over their children’s heads.

These women worry too about how their insecure housing situation will impact on their children’s emotional health. These are women who travel for hours on buses from their emergency homeless accommodation in hotels and B&Bs, crossing the city to the schools their children attend.

Too few services to heal toxic stresses

Many communities have very committed psychiatry and GP services. But there is very little there to aid and heal the toxic stresses for some of our young women in 2018. The structural violence by the State has not aided this either.

Years of austerity and cutbacks has resulted in a series of policy harms that disproportionately affected the more vulnerable and less well off in our society. These decisions are seen as a form of structural violence by the State. For example, though the government publicly claimed it was maintaining core social security rates, it introduced radical reductions in supplementary payments that had provided an important cushion against poverty.

Although some of these payments were increased slightly in recent budgets, they are still below the poverty line. The lowest income groups were among those most severely impacted by these. It has also been well documented that women and children are disproportionately affected by poverty.

In addition to these direct losses, people placed at risk of poverty by the state have felt the impact of massive cuts in funding to community, voluntary and statutory organisations that provide a range of support services to them.

It’s commonplace for people experiencing issues with their mental health to be left to languish on waiting lists for counselling services for months. And for women who can barely afford to feed and clothe their children, private counselling services are not even an option.

For some, prescribed medications like benzodiazepines are used to numb their pain and suppress their symptoms – but how can that ever be seen as a viable long-term solution? For others, unfortunately, illicit drug use provides that pain relief.

Vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion

The answer to these problems is, of course, staring us in the face. Report after report by researchers and academics confirms the view of those working on the front line – that the only way to improve mental health and tackle drug use and the high suicide rates in our communities is to seriously address the vicious cycle of poverty and social exclusion.

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We are being told day in day out that we are in an economic ‘recovery’. Perhaps some communities may be feeling this. But there are large pockets of society that not only missed out on the Celtic Tiger but never got out of the great recession.

Reform plan

The Sláintecare health reform plan has promised earlier and better access to mental health services; we need to ensure that happens. Women need to have access to community based primary health care that offers real treatment options – not just medication.

They should be provided with services that incorporate counselling and family supports which are about empathy not judgement. Most importantly we need to start engaging with women and involving them in the solution.

In order to support the most vulnerable in society particularly women and children we must address the root cause of suicide, poor mental health, substance misuse and that requires substantial investment and political will to address poverty and disadvantage particular in communities that are disproportionately affected by austerity measures.

Tara Deacy is the Prevention Officer in Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force and the Social Democrats general election candidate for Dublin South Central.

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About the author:

Tara Deacy  / Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force

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