Ireland’s mental health took a beating, says professor

Jim Lucey tells Merriman Summer School one in four will experience a mental disorder

Our path to recovery as a nation can only be sustained by promoting our emotional and mental health, a leading psychiatrist said last night.

"In Ireland, as in life, traumatic experience has not been avoidable, and our mental and emotional health may have taken a beating, but what matters now is that we can respond," Prof Jim Lucey said in the opening address at the Merriman Summer School in Ennis.

The theme of this year’s school is “Emotional Life in Ireland” and Prof Lucey, who is clinical professor of psychiatry at Trinity College Dublin, said much of our national dialogue appeared to be about the economic and political agendas as though these existed in a vacuum.

Emotional health

Prof Lucey, who is medical director at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, said recognition of the importance of emotional health was “necessary and progressive”.


“Mental and emotional health issues are still stigmatised in Ireland, even though mental health is the largest unmet health need in our society. It is the real agenda behind most of our national narrative. One in four of us will have a mental disorder in our adult lifetime, and our rates of addiction and dependency are excessively high.

“Unfortunately the typical response to mental distress in Ireland is neglect – or postponement at best . . . It has been said that if your car breaks down today you could probably have it repaired within an hour, but if you or I have a mental breakdown today it is unlikely that we will get help for at least 18 months.

“For anxiety and depressive disorders, the delay can be as long as 10 years before an effective intervention. The delay is largely in our inability to have the mental health conversation.”

In jeopardy

The mental and emotional health of nearly one-quarter of our population was in jeopardy, he said, and the most common disorders were depression and anxiety.

“How many compassionate values have been re-articulated and re-emerged since the departure of the troika and with them the departure of our cash. Surely a renewed conversation about values would be restorative. Perhaps then the emotional and economic value of our homeless and unemployed would be acknowledged.”

He said there was “great hope for our future, if we come to terms with our past. International experience provides powerful examples where the discovery of a dynamic process made it possible to wrestle even with the complicity of church and state in terrible crimes”.

If such a process were to gather momentum a rebirth of cultural values could begin. “Out of a sincere re-engagement with our history we could make peace with ourselves and rediscover what it is to be truly mentally and emotionally well.”

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan

Gordon Deegan is a contributor to The Irish Times