Saturday 23 March 2019

Depressed offered no option but to pop pills


INSURERS, employers and the Heath Service Executive (HSE) have been accused of "pushing drugs" at people who seek help for their psychological problems.

An addiction expert who has worked at the famous London Priory Clinic and is now heading an addiction centre in Ireland has said that the huge numbers of people on antidepressant medication in this country can be traced back to these groups.

Colin O'Driscoll, senior psychologist and centre manager at the Forest clinic in Wicklow, says that insurers, employers and the HSE are pushing people towards antidepressants to treat problems such as depression, bereavement and anxiety.

He believes that Irish legislation favours medical treatment for a whole range of psychological problems and makes it almost impossible for many people to go down the route of seeking a non-medical answer to their problems.

"Insurers will cover someone who is depressed and who goes to see their doctor. The doctor will then sign them off work and their employer will see that certificate as 'valid', and will then allow the individual to get time off work.

"But if the same individual goes to a psychologist and actually wants to resolve their problems and talk them through with somebody who can help, they're not covered. It won't be paid for by their insurance and they won't be certified off work because an employer doesn't have to recognise a psychologist's request for an employee to get some time off work," says O'Driscoll.

"This is part of the reason why we have a quarter of a million people in Ireland on antidepressant medication, sitting on a couch watching Oprah all day as they move further away from their ability to pick up the pieces and get their life back on track."

O'Driscoll argues that this emphasis on a legalised level of drug therapy has yet to be given adequate attention.

"Common drug pushing is all we talk about in the papers and we frown upon it and it is a very topical issue but meanwhile, back at the ranch, we're doing it on a far greater scale. From insurers to employers to the Department of Health to the Medical Council of Ireland, we are drug-pushing from that level. And these sectors are undoubtedly being driven by this pharmaceutical engine."

He also says that pressure needs to be put on these groups if thousands of people are to find an alternative answer to their psychological problems.

"The HSE and the Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) need to put pressure on insurers and employers to cover psychologists.

"They still won't cover any counselling. So when you have people who are in the depths of depression and absolute despair and medication isn't working for them, they have nowhere to turn. They don't have the money to see a psychologist privately and they just can't afford to wait six months to see one in the health service."

In response, a spokesperson for the Department of Social and Family Affairs stated: "In order for an individual to become a medical certifier they must be a registered medical doctor and they must have registered with the Irish Medical Council. So they must be registered on the medical register of Ireland as a qualified practitioner.

"I'm not sure what the reasoning is behind it," she added, "but that is the criterion, which is laid down in legislation."

In response to Colin O'Driscoll's comments, the Voluntary Health Insurance company said: "VHI Healthcare provides treatment benefit for depression and anxiety on an in-patient basis in a psychiatric hospital listed in the Directory of Hospitals and Treatment Centres or an approved psychiatric unit of a hospital listed in the Directory of Hospitals and Treatment Centres."

A spokesperson added: "Many companies in Ireland offer Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) to specifically tackle these kind of issues. One of our teams, VHI Corporate Solutions, implements EAPs in a number of companies, providing management and employees with easy access to specialised information on issues such as family, work, relationships, bereavement and conflict, as well as access to confidential counselling services."

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