Mental health crisis among drug addicts ‘deepening’

Merchants Quay Ireland reports surge in demand for services driven by pandemic

A “deepening crisis of homelessness, addiction and mental health problems” is worsening among vulnerable drug users, a leading drug-treatment centre is warning.

Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI), the largest non-statutory addiction treatment service in the State, reports an 11 per cent increase in the number of people needing its mental health service last year and a 6 per cent rise in demand for free food.

Publishing its 2019 annual report on Thursday, it said the pandemic had made this “bad situation worse” as demand continues to grow this year even as meeting this demand has become more difficult.

Chief executive Paula Byrne said: "Last year, we had 11,600 people in need come through our doors – evidence of a deepening social crisis, in housing, in homelessness and in addiction. The number of people accessing our mental health services jumped by 11 per cent – to 443 people.


‘Nowhere to go’

“During this pandemic, life is especially difficult for people who are homeless as day services across the city are restricted due to Covid. Many of our clients are outside all day, in all weather, with nowhere to go indoors for a warm meal, a shower, or a comforting conversation.

“There is no doubt that this social isolation and increased hardship is having a negative impact on our clients’ mental health. This is further compounded by how challenging it is to deliver mental health services safely during this crisis. There is a very real risk that some people will fall through the cracks this winter.”

‘I sleep rough’

Among those helped last year was Stephen, who did not wish to give his surname and who has had mental ill-health since he was a child.

He said he had been “on the streets” most of his adult life. “My drug use would be bad because there’s things I’ve been dealing with since my childhood, things that have happened to me.”

Describing MQI as his “lifeline”, he said he had struggled during Covid and expects the winter to be “harder”.

“I sleep rough, I’ve nowhere to go when it’s raining. When it’s frosty or snowing, I’m out there in that . . . Thankfully, even over the last lockdown and all, I’ve still been able to get to talk to my keyworker and my GP, get my bit of food and what have you from Merchants Quay, which has been a lifesaver, literally. But it’s lonely not being able go in and have a bit of rest, have a bit of a sit-down.”

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland

Kitty Holland is Social Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times