Sunday 24 September 2017

Our children are dying, and still nothing is done

Our woefully inadequate mental health services are a form of child abuse, writes Carol Hunt

Before she was so abruptly dismissed from her post as executive director of Unicef Ireland, Melanie Verwoerd launched Changing the Future: Mental Health (June 2011), a report which looked at mental health difficulties as experienced by young people in Ireland -- problems such as eating disorders, self-harming and depression. It wasn't a pretty read because once again it seemed to copperfasten the suspicion that we in Ireland have failed -- and continue to fail -- our most vulnerable citizens.

The most worrying aspect of this study was the fact that of the 50 per cent of children (under 18s) who experienced depression, the 23 per cent who reported suicidal thoughts and the 20 per cent who admitted self-harming: almost all of them (82 per cent) said they were not receiving any type of help at all for their difficulties. None. Not even from parents, teachers or other adults, never mind trained professionals. Such is the fear and stigma of even discussing mental difficulties and suicidation with children and teenagers.

Last week Professor Kevin Malone and artist Seamus McGuinness gave a joint presentation at the Merriman Summer School entitled Lost Childhoods -- Young Lived Lives Lost to Suicide 2003-2008. Essentially, it was based on Malone's Suicide in Ireland survey where he collated CSO data on the topic and also talked to many families who have endured the trauma of a death by suicide. Initially I thought he must have gotten his figures wrong, or I had mis-read them. But no, his assertion that "you're talking about two children a month taking their lives in Ireland" was backed by statistics.

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