independent

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Children turning to Pieta House for help

Staff of Pieta House in Wexford: Trish Martin, Sinead Kehoe, Frances Whelan, Sally Griffiths and Pauline Lawlor
Staff of Pieta House in Wexford: Trish Martin, Sinead Kehoe, Frances Whelan, Sally Griffiths and Pauline Lawlor

David Looby

Half of the people availing of help for suicidal ideation from Pieta House are teenagers and children.

Figures obtained by this newspaper from the national Pieta House organisation reveal that 158 people have used the Pieta House Wexford service for both suicide intervention counselling and suicide bereavement counselling since they began seeing clients in May last year.

Based in Francis Street in Wexford town, the service's three counsellors have been inundated with requests to see children and teenagers - many of whom are on lengthy waiting lists for the county's Child And Adult Mental Health Service based at Slaney House in Wexford.

Pieta House Manager Sally Griffiths, who has a background in suicide bereavement support for family members who have lost loved ones to suicide, said Pieta House was borne out of the personal experience of suicide that founder Joan Freeman had, adding that providing a personal service is at the heart of the centre's ethos.

The Wexford branch celebrates its first anniversary receiving clients next week.

Speaking in the run up to the Darkness Into Light walk this Saturday morning, Kilmore woman Sally said: 'When Console folded, the HSE asked Pieta House to take over. We provide a friendly, welcoming, non judgemental service. Everyone who comes in to us is greeted with a cup of tea or coffee and children can have a hot chocolate.'

The region's suicide bereavement liaison officer is based at the Wexford service, which also caters for people in counties Carlow and Wicklow.

The service is funded through fundraising initiatives, an annual stipend payment from the HSE and from service users' donatons.

Sally said the majority of clients are under 18.

'They are overwhelmed and stressed. Some come because of experiences they had in childhood, others because of bullying, or problems they have had online and with addiction. There is too much access for young people who are not able to cope with the amount of information they are getting online.'

Teenagers and children as young as ten have been presenting with self harm and suicidal ideation and the numbers have been growing month by month.

'Sometimes the parents bring them, school counsellors have been very on the ball. We also get some GP referrals. Adults largely come through word of mouth.'

Sally said most youths are left waiting lengthy periods to be seen by the Child and Adult Mental Health Service, the exceptions being those who have been admitted to the paediatric unit at the hospital, as they are prioritised.

'The main thing is to bring them in to us and for them to know that they are being heard and seen and that we are not here judging or condemning them. Nothing they think or feel is stupid. Everything that upsets them is very important.'

Teenagers addicted to drugs and/or alcohol have also presented to the service.

'Some are struggling because of exam stress, others with self image problems. There are a lot of very sensitive children who are sensitive to noise and being in crowded spaces.'

The centre's staff are trained in dealing with a myriad of mental health issues.

Sally said Darkness Into Light walks shine a light on the service.

'The walks are coming up next week on Saturday, May 12. The walks bring a focus on our service. We are preparing to do a new marketing campaign for Wexford to raise our profile here and to make ourselves more known with GPs, the gardaí and other mental health service providers.'

The suicide bereavement liaison officer works with families and communities bereaved by suicide, offering support and information until the individuals are ready to seek counselling.

One of the greatest challenges Sally has experienced has been getting the support of parents of children with mental health problems. 'Sometimes it's difficult to get honest support. We insist on parent's staying on the premises while the children are here. If we have a client who is at a high risk we would suggest they would be taken to the Department of Psychiatry in Waterford or to the A&E for their own safety.'

Sally said it is common knowledge that the health sector is understaffed and underfunded.

'The people who are there are doing their best although it mightn't seem that way to service users. Any time we've dealt with them they have been most helpful. There is a huge gap in the (mental health) service.'

She said the stigma of suicide on families has lessened, but an awkwardness remains.

'There is an avoidance whereby people dodge individuals who have been bereaved by suicide because they don't know what to say. People think that when someone dies by suicide it is only the immediate family that is affected but it is the greater family and community that is also left suffering. It has a much farther reach.'

She thanked the people of County Wexford for their support of the service. 'It's nice to know that people appreciate what is going on. My experience of Wexford people is that they are hugely open hearted towards something like this.'

'It's a rewarding job, especially when you see someone coming in so low and leaving with a smile on their face,' Sally added.

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