Wednesday 25 April 2018

Homeless people suffering with mental illness 'do not get adequate support', new report

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Alan O'Keeffe

People who suffer a "double stigma" of being homeless and having mental illness do not get adequate care or support, a new report revealed.

Another big barrier to getting care for mental illness is a lack of respect and compassion if the person has addiction problems, it stated.

The report, 'Homelessness and Mental Health: Voices of Experience,' was jointly launched today by the Mental Health Reform coalition of advocacy groups and Dublin Simon Community.

The experiences of several homeless people suffering mental health and addiction problems were expressed in the report.

They said there is inadequate access to quality crisis mental health support on a seven day, 24-hour hour basis.

A spokesperson for people in that predicament said: "Homeless people usually have to go to 'A and E' if they are in crisis. However, we think that is not a practical solution.

"Most homeless people won't go to A and E in the first place because they know how they're going to be treated.

"The solution is to develop and deliver a 24-hour seven day a week direct access community mental health service for homeless people already engaged in the mental health services."

The report, compiled by researcher Rebecca Murphy, was welcomed by Mental Health Reform Director Dr Shari McDaid. Dr McDaid said: "The findings illustrate the struggle  homeless people face  in accessing mental health services including bureaucratic barriers, the double stigma of homelessness and mental health difficulties, and being denied mental health care due to having a substance abuse issue."

Dr McDaid said: "We know that severe mental health difficulties are more prevalent among homeless people than the general population.

"Therefore, it's crucial that their pathways to services are easy and that the service they receive is respectful and compassionate.

"The Government needs to act to ensure that mental health services are fully accessible to everyone, including homeless people," she said.

Speaking at the report launch in Dublin, Claire McSweeney, head of emergency services in Dublin Simon Community, said "Many of the people we work with have been exposed to some form of previous trauma.

"They can often have severe mental health and substance use issues."

She said the experiences of the people outlined in the report emphasised the great need for accessible services for people with enduring severe mental health and addiction problems.

Many also have less severe mental difficulties such as anxiety and depression, she said.

In response to such need,  Dublin Simon Community set up the Sure Steps Counselling Service which removed traditional barriers to not excluding people with active addictions.

This means having a mobile health unit to visit people who are rough sleeping, providing one-to-one counselling, and responding to people in distress wherever they are, she said.

"Counselling and support goes to where our clients are staying, with flexible session times," she said, adding the service has grown over four years but it is "only a drop in the ocean" compared to what is needed.

Helen McEntee, outgoing Minister of State for Mental Health, said a key priority of the HSE's National Service Plan is the provision of out-of-hours liaison and seven day responses for mental health.

"A working group, with key stakeholders, including unions, has been established to progress models of care for 7/7 and 24/7 services," she said.

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