Thursday 18 January 2018

Making sense of Majella's outburst about trying to find a psychiatrist

Like housing, mental health services are cursed by a shortage of supply, but it's a complicated situation

RANT: Majella O’Donnell complained about her friend’s search for a psychiatrist, and many people agreed with her stance. Photo: Andres Poveda
RANT: Majella O’Donnell complained about her friend’s search for a psychiatrist, and many people agreed with her stance. Photo: Andres Poveda
Donal Lynch

Donal Lynch

Are psychiatrists the new landlords? To listen to Majella O'Donnell last week you would have thought they were. Her description of her friend's search for a psychiatrist had many parallels with the stories from the ongoing housing crisis: A desperate punter at the end of her tether, a whole class of (presumably wealthy) individuals dispassionately benefiting from the shortage of supply - the friend was told she'd have to wait until February to be seen - and an overall system that seems hopelessly skewed against the ordinary person earning an ordinary wage. €300 an hour was the rate Majella's friend was quoted.

It was probably the expletive in Majella's "rant" that woke us up (no wonder Daniel reportedly hides in the wardrobe during arguments, you couldn't help thinking) but many people seemed to agree that she had a point. "How dare anyone charge that kind of money to help another human being who is in a desperate situation," she wrote. "That sort of fee CANNOT be justified!!"

Is she right? There would have been the option to go public and in an emergency you can present yourself at A&E where you will be seen by a psychiatrist. The problem seems to be with those people for whom care is pressing but not life-and-death urgent. I phoned the office of a psychologist on behalf of a friend of mine two weeks ago and, similarly to Majella, was told that there would be 14 weeks of a wait and that a GP referral was a cast-iron prerequisite. The self-assessed (and patently obvious) level of urgency, and the fact that my friend doesn't have a GP, was neither here nor there. The friend has since been hospitalised, a massively expensive and disrupting process that could potentially have been avoided had she been treated on an outpatient basis. How can we remotely say we're taking mental health seriously when vulnerable, distressed people have to go through this expensive, lengthy rigmarole to get seen?

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