A new counselling initiative has been set up in Cork city to support members of Ireland's Polish and Romanian communities, who are struggling with addiction but have fallen through the cracks of the health service because of linguistic barriers.
The You are not Alone initiative, run by the Together-Razem charity in Cork, will offer free counselling sessions to people struggling with gambling addictions and their families who may not know where to turn for support.
Together-Razem director Voytek Bialek said even though many members of the Polish and Romanian communities had integrated into Irish life and know where to go for help, others remain on the fringes of society, with the most vulnerable at risk of homelessness or struggling with mental health difficulties.
Poles make up the largest group of foreign nationals living in Ireland at 112,515, followed by 103,113 UK nationals and 36,552 Lithuanians, according to the 2016 census. Most Poles in Ireland are young, with nearly 50 per cent aged between 30 and 40 years of age.
There are more than 29,100 Romanians and 3,100 Irish Romanians living in Ireland, according to Central Statistics Office data.
Similar to the Irish population as a whole, alcohol addiction is a problem within the Eastern European community, said Mr Bialek. The pandemic, multiple lockdowns and forced self-isolation had led to an increase in addictions over the past year, he added.
During Covid-19, the Cork-based charity noticed a significant increase in gambling addiction among Poles and Romanians, who had easy access to online casinos and bookmakers during lockdown periods.
“For years, we have been aware of the fact that Polish people who don’t speak English struggle with accessing the services offered by the HSE,” said Mr Bialek.
“The solutions that are offered, such as the presence of an interpreter during a counselling session when you talk about intimate issues, are ethically questionable, to say the least. What is more, cost of such a service tends to be more expensive than using multilingual counsellors that our centre employs.”
Speaking to a counsellor about addiction or mental health issues is far easier when a person can talk in their native tongue, he said.
With funding from the Gambling Awareness Trust, the Cork centre has now started offering free counselling sessions in Polish and Romanian run by trained counsellors who understand the culture and background of these communities, he added.
Together-Razem was founded in 2006 and works to promote integration and support education and mental health among Eastern Europeans living in Ireland.