Mental health system too drug-related, says Irons as he launches farm project

Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons has said that helping people who experience mental health problems to live in a community is more “humane” than putting them in “homes” where they become reliant on medication.

Irons, who lives at Kilcoe near Ballydehob in West Cork, travelled to north Co Cork yesterday with his wife Sinéad Cusack to open a community farm, which provides a supportive living environment for those with mental health difficulties.

The Slí Eile Farm at Burton Park, outside the village of Churchtown, is home to five tenants, as well as to a variety of animals, including two Aberdeen Angus cows, 12 hens, two ducks, and two pigs.

Its tenants pay rent and contribute to the running of the house and the farm, including tending to the animals, as well as household duties like cleaning and cooking.

The farm is run by charity, Slí Eile, which is HSE-funded and was set up by Joan Hamilton in 2001 as a result of her experiences with her daughter, who suffered from mental health difficulties and whose condition deteriorated in the traditional psychiatric system.

Irons said the Irish mental health system was “too drug-related”.

“I think young people especially tend to get into trouble either because they are taking drugs or they are drinking too much or family situations… and they can very easily get into the mental health industry and be given medication, which as we know, has side effects and maybe is not the best way of dealing with this delicate time in growing up,” he said.

“I think in the old days with communities, we would absorb these people. If people had a problem the community would rally round and they would have a place in that community.

“I think the danger now is that we tend to take people to conurbations, put them in homes which have no bearing on community, where they just become reliant on taking medication.

“I think what Joan Hamilton is trying to do here is to get people back into a community where they are self-supporting, self-reliant, and give them back a life. I think it’s tremendously useful.”

The launch was also attended by Kathleen Lynch, the mental health minister.

Slí Eile opened its first support house, a six-bed bungalow, in Charleville, in 2006 and has now relocated to the heritage house on a farm on the outskirts of Churchtown.

CEO Ms Hamilton said the move from a town to a small village was a “big step” but has “really worked”.

She said part of the benefits of living on the farm for the tenants is the routine it provides.

“It gives them structure. They work with the animals and with nature, which is proven to be beneficial.”

Tenants in the meantime continue to work with their mental health teams and the charity provides support to tenants to keep up medical appointments and to take their medication.

There are three full-time and four part-time staff, as well as five volunteers who provide 24-hour support to tenants.


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