A GP and coroner in Co Donegal has said there is "a terrible problem" of suicide among young people in Ireland.
Dr Denis McCauley, who is chair of the Irish Medical Organisation’s GP committee, said he has seen an increase in female suicides this year.
Dr McCauley told the Oireachtas sub-committee on mental health on Thursday morning that he encounters suicide in both his roles as a GP and coroner.
"Every death by suicide is a disaster. I think it's important to put it into context that we are probably one of the lowest countries in Europe, I think 11th lowest in relation to general suicide. We have a terrible problem with young people committing suicide, particularly young men," he told the committee.
“This year unfortunately I have seen more female suicides in our area than I have seen for a while.”
Dr McCauley also said there is no doubt that the present Covid pandemic has had significant psychological effects on the population of Ireland.
“There are escalating reports of common mental health problems and more marked neuropsychiatric disorders associated with the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
“These can arise from direct effects of infection and of long Covid syndrome, with enforced isolation and quarantine and with the additional stressors such as acute or abnormal bereavement, job losses, inter familial tensions and sudden impoverishment.
“These additional pressures can present as acute psychiatric diagnosis or an exacerbation of previous psychological/psychiatric issues, domestic violence or increased levels of alcohol or drug use.”
Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, medical director of the Irish College of General Practitioners (ICGP), said loneliness was a challenge before Covid-19 and has become "much worse" because of the pandemic.
Dr Quinlan referenced the example of an older man who used to visit his surgery “well in advance” of his appointment time.
“When I’d see him sitting there, the first one or two times I would call him out of order ahead of his scheduled appointment time. But very quickly I realised that he lived alone, in a rural part of Cork and that essentially he was coming [early] just for the social interaction of meeting other people in a doctor’s waiting room,” he said.
Dr Quinlan said the current workload for GPs is “very substantial” and that there will likely be a role for them in supporting the Covid-19 vaccine campaign. He added that rural Ireland is facing a “real crisis” in terms of attracting and retaining GPs.
The committee heard that around 50 per cent of GP consultations have some element of psychological input, while 25 per cent of GP workload relates directly to managing mental health symptoms including anxiety symptoms, depressive symptoms and addiction.
Figures from October show 2,229 young people with serious mental health and behavioural problems are on a waiting list for an initial assessment by a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service team of which over a third have been waiting for longer than six months.
Dr Sumi Dunne, a GP in Co Laois, said we need to start looking at embedding mental health care within existing services and having less dependence on voluntary charities, which will be going through "lean times" due to Covid-19.
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