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Isolation and the lack of opportunities impacts on young peoples’ mental health in Donegal

The Jigsaw programme in Donegal has seen 230 young people avail of its service in just one year.

Youth Mental Health
Youth Mental Health

DONEGAL HAS THE lowest rate of expendable income and the highest rate of male unemployment in the country. The geography of the county alone can make it a very isolating place, which is something that can impact heavily on the mental health of young people.

Jigsaw projects across Ireland work with communities to better support young people’s mental health and well being. Developed and supported by Headstrong, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health and the HSE, one such Jigsaw facility was opened last year in Letterkenny, Donegal.

The opening of the project was three years in the making, after community groups voiced a need for supports for the young people of Donegal.

Free service

In just over one year, the programme has seen over 230 young people avail of the free service, something Sean McGrory, the project manager says is testament to how badly it was needed in the county.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Mr McGrory said the project has three aims. They want to give one to one support to young people if they want help, they want to train people who are in contact with young people on a daily basis, such as teachers and youth workers, on how to be aware about youth mental health issues and to educate the broader public also.

He said:

We are a rural county in an isolated location and that has a huge impact on young people, socially.

The population of the county is scattered and this alone can have an impact on how young people interact and engage with each other.

He added, however, that the issues young people face in Donegal are the same problems that young people in other parts of the country face. “They have the same problems, feel the same pressure and we are not saying that they are any more worse off than others, but the access to supports can be limited here,” he said.

Young people in Donegal

He added that there are a number of factors in Donegal that can have an impact on young people. “In terms of deprivation, Donegal is always pretty much bottom of the list, we have the highest rate of male unemployment in the country, the lowest rate of expendable income, so while the Celtic Tiger may have had some benefits to people, it did not reach us as much,” he said.

Mr McGrory added:

With such a high level of unemployment in the county, this has can cause a lot of distress to families and to teenagers who see their parents struggle.

Not only that, but young people who are just leaving school or college, the lack of opportunities and jobs is something that we see as a big problem.

The Jigsaw project is open to people aged between 15 – 25 years old, which Mr McGrory said shows the huge spectrum of youth mental issues in the area.

Low mood

“People who use the service range from users with common problems, such as low mood, stress and worry to people presenting with early mental health issues, which we try and treat with early prevention. We would see a significant amount of people self-harming, but also a lot of young people who have either left college or school or have lost jobs and are just very disillusioned about their future,” he said.

He said that as a county, Donegal is very loyal, stating that majority of the people do not want to leave, but they feel they have no choice. “It’s common to have ‘wakes’ in the small towns when 8 or 10 young people are leaving to go to Australia,” he said, adding that it is a great loss to the community and can be felt.

The Jigsaw project does not require a doctor’s referral, meaning young people can simply walk in off the street and say they want to talk to someone.

My World Survey of 14,000 children found that they were dealing with issues and not asking for help. Often times, young people don’t want to visit the family doctor they have known since they were a baby. Jigsaw offers them a place to visit, where they don’t have to worry about being dismissed,” he said.

Jigsaw in Donegal is located in Letterkenny, though, Mr McGrory said they were aware of rural isolation in the county. They have three outreach centres which are manned one day a week, in Buncrana, Killybegs and Gweedore.

“Establishing a youth mental health service like this hasn’t been without its challenges, but we hope it’s making a difference and helping young people in the county,” said Mr McGrory.

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

Read: “Arrogant” Phil Hogan’s visit to be greeted with protest by Letterkenny councillors>

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