Sunday 19 January 2020

Family critical of mental health and judicial systems

Sister of mentally ill man speaks about treatment

Ciara Galvin

'If my brother had killed someone who would have taken responsibility'?

That is the question posed by the sister of a mentally unwell Sligo man who feels mental health services and the judiciary have let her brother down. The Sligo woman's brother is currently in a medical unit in Castlerea Prison having appeared on a number of charges at the District Court, some arising out of his stay in the HSE's Mental Health Services in Sligo (St Columba's).

She told The Sligo Champion her brother first showed signs of mental health illness three years ago, having been a friendly, active person up until then. After a family bereavement his mental health steadily deteriorated.

"He also used alcohol to self medicate and was addicted to alcohol and had a few misdemeanors because of it," she explained.

The concerned sibling said her brother was first taken to St Columba's by her a year ago and they were turned away from an inpatient stay.

The woman said her brother was told he did not need help and was prescribed anti depressants. She explained that her brother began receiving help once her brother got into the system.

"I accompanied him everywhere including a number of psychiatric outpatient appointments."

His sister had been giving him his medication twice daily, however, after six months he stopped engaging with mental health services, taking medication, and stayed in his room for several months barely eating or engaging with the outside world.

Last August her brother was assigned a care worker and he seemed to be 'coming around', but after returning to alcohol abuse he was taken by the care worker to St Columba's and according to her, was once again refused entry to stay.

After a second outburst at the house a week later the family were left with no choice but to contact gardaí to try to get the man 'sectioned'.

"He then went in of his own accord," she explained. Following an alleged assault by him at the hospital, the 43-year-old man was told he could not stay and was taken into custody.

"There was an unfortunate incident at the hospital towards the end of his stay where he inflicted violence on a staff member, which led to him being taken into custody," his sister detailed.

He was later given a bed in a hostel, which his sister highlighted was not a safe place for her mentally unwell brother, or for the safety of the other lodgers.

"It wasn't the best place for him considering he had a violent psychotic episode at the hospital...He was kicked out of the hostel for behavioural problems put into custody again and then offered a sleeping bag, this was the best, last and only solution for this particular situation."

She added, "You wouldn't leave a dog on the streets, let alone a mentally fragile, weak human being unable to access basic facilities, this is the worst kind of inhumanity I have heard of within the mental health system.

"We entrusted the care of our brother into the cradle of the mental health care system, and look where he ended up."

Asked if her brother was ejected from the hospital due to lack of adequate facilities to house a patient who has violent outbursts, the woman said she was unsure as to why her brother did not receive any further treatment there.

"This cannot be an isolated case and they must have people there to deal with difficult awkward patients because that is part of their mental problem. We never got told anything, all we were told is he got kicked out of Columbas. Then he went into a hostel, was kicked out of their and was on the street."

The woman is also concerned with how little information she and her family are being given in relation to her brother's welfare.

"There's a lot of information we're not privy to because of data protection and because he's an adult, but to me, he's not quite an adult, he's acting like a child because of his mental state. You're not dealing with a normal person or a normal adult, he needs a legal guardian, someone who can speak on his behalf."

The Sligo woman believes the reason her brother allegedly committed crimes which he is now in custody for after choosing not to apply for bail, is because he was on the streets.

She believes if her brother had had somewhere to stay he would not have committed the alleged crimes.

She described his repeat offending, admittance into custody and subsequent release on a number of occasions as a 'vicious circle'.

"He ran riot in Sligo," she admitted.

In relation to her brother's most recent court appearance at Sligo District Court, the woman expressed her disbelief that her brother was being considered for bail by the judge.

"The judge was going to grant him bail and let him out on the street. He [her brother] obviously needed psychiatric treatment."

She said despite the judge considering to grant him bail, her brother chose to stay in custody.

"He chose prison because at least in prison..there was a bed..somewhere dry, a hot meal/shower, all the basic things that a normal human being should have, also, he was unable to acquire alcohol and drugs which were fuelling the reckless behaviour and he was also unable to perpetrate any more offences."

She added that as a result of her brother being in prison, both he and society were 'in a better place'.

However, in saying that, the woman followed this up by clarifying that instead of being in prison, though positive in terms of not re offending and not being on the streets, he should be getting suitable treatment in a more suitable institution 'where he can be with people like himself.'

Awaiting court appearance later this week to see what the immediate future holds for her brother, the woman said she and her family are left with unanswered questions.

"Why isn't there a contingency plan in place for unmanageable, challenging and violent patients, who, for their part can't help some of their behaviour, instead of making them homeless where they're a risk to themselves and society?"

Sligo Champion