Services for young in a state of flux
Recent high-profile suicides have brought into question services that are available to young people going through problems
Mairéad went to see two school counsellors when she was 16 years old but says she didn’t get the help she needed.
“They were scared of me,” she recalls. “I was already self-harming at the time and I felt they were not fully qualified to deal with it.”
When her depression worsened, leading to suicidal thoughts, she went to a GP who contacted the health services. She received a letter in the post the following week saying she had an appointment in four weeks.
“That length of time for someone who is suicidal is a long time,” she says.
Recent high-profile suicides have brought into question the services that are available to young people going through problems. While help is out there for them, it can be difficult to access and when they do, they can face waiting lists.
The Health Service Executive, which oversees mental health services for young people, says anyone in urgent need will be seen immediately. But depending on what the young person is going through, there can still be delays.
In September there were more than 2,000 young people waiting for appointments with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.
While 45 per cent were seen within four weeks in the last year, 12 per cent waited more than six months while one in 20 waited more than 12 months.
The services are in a state of flux. Back in 2006 a plan was put into action for how young people in difficulties could best be served through child-specific outpatient and inpatient units and teams put in to communities providing specific disciplines including consultant psychiatrists, speech therapists or social workers.
Millions of euros were pumped into the plan for the first few years during the tail end of the boom – and then the funding dropped off.
There is still a commitment to provide the units and the teams but things are moving more slowly than hoped. Coupled with funding problems is increased pressure being heaped on the system – an extra 1,500 people were referred to the services in the year up to September compared to the previous year.
Almost 10,000 young people were referred over the past year. A population boom and a greater awareness among young people about the need to seek help will mean pressure on the services will continue to rise.
Services differ greatly around the country, with waiting lists longer outside Dublin and its commuter belt.
This is because the high concentration of young people in the capital and its surrounding counties has made it vital to build units and staff the community teams.
Psychologist Anne-Marie Conlon works in Jigsaw in Navan, Co Meath, a drop-in centre for young people seeking advice about problems.
She is just off the phone from a distressed parent whose child is causing difficulties in the home and who has already been waiting months for an appointment to see someone for a mental health assessment.