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Depression surge in rich suburbs over cash worries

The number of anxiety and depression disorders in the country's richest neighbourhood has more than doubled since the recession.

People worried about their mortgages, losing their jobs and paying private school fees in Dalkey, Blackrock, and Dun Laoghaire, are flocking to their GPs for treatment for mental health conditions.

Householders living in the affluent neighbourhood, which is home to U2's Bono, Enya, and film director Neil Jordan, are becoming ill as they struggle to pay their bills.

The clinical director of the Cluain Mhuire Community Mental Health Services for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, Dr Siobhan Barry, said there has been a huge jump in the number of referrals to their services between 2008 and 2009, when the recession hit the country.

The remarkable increase in the numbers attending the public service is also thought to be caused by an increase in patients who used private healthcare in the past.

Before the economic downturn in 2006, there were just over 8,000 (8,076) patients referred by their GP to the St John of God out-patient service, but by 2009 the figure had doubled to over 16,000 (16,676).

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Barry said GPs were citing financial problems in their referral letters.

She said: "There are a lot of anxiety disorders and a certain level of low-mood depression with these kinds of conditions directly linked to the financial recession. I would certainly say that around a third of the referrals from GPs certainly contain references to financial problems and there were virtually none previously.

"In national terms it would be the most affluent catchment area although it has always had pockets of deprivation.

"GPs are saying that people are under financial strain and worrying about making ends meet, which is contributing to a lack of sleep. This type of financial worry can trigger an anxiety disorder.

"There has been a huge jump in the number of referrals from 2008 to 2009. Our feeling is the numbers have increased due to the economic situation and the amount of new people who might have attended elsewhere previously in a private capacity."

The number of people looking for treatment for mental health disorders also coincides with a dramatic rise in the numbers on the live register in Dun Laoghaire.

In the last five years the numbers signing on in the suburb has almost tripled from 2,580 people in 2006 to 7,928 last month (June 2011).

Dr Barry said: "People are presenting with recession-related problems around financial security. They are worried their employment is going to go or their shares have gone.

"In south county Dublin there are quite a high number of fee-paying schools and a lot of the population would themselves have gone to fee-paying schools.

"When they can no longer afford the fees there is a huge personal sense of shame.

"People are reporting that they are becoming fearful, unable to sleep, frightened of what is coming down the tracks and that they become mentally paralysed."

She said the services had found that practical help to tackle finances can often provide a huge sense of relief.

She said: "We are referring patients to social workers. They try to get them to take practical steps and go through their financial circumstances.

"The second part of the intervention is helping people to become calmer and more accepting."

Sunday Independent