An underlying and undetected mental health epidemic is causing young at-risk people to turn to alcohol, drugs and, possibly, suicide.
But a community group in Co Cork is helping to buck the trend in identifying, and assisting at-risk second- and third-level students along with their families.
The group, backed by professional people who offered their services voluntarily, is currently assisting more than 200 families in the greater Kinsale area which encompasses five neighbouring parishes.
Juvenile liaison officer, Garda James O’Mahony, who spearheads the group, said prevention and intervention are the key principles driving Kinsale Youth Support Services.
Known as KYSS, the group has appointed a part-time youth health worker, Tom Walsh.
Garda O’Mahony said many young people mask their anxiety and depression by turning to drugs and alcohol.
Furthermore, research showed, in some cases, young people who were the victims of bullying, abuse, problems at home, and low self-esteem were finding life difficult for one reason or another.
Garda O’Mahony thanked up to 30 professionals from all walks of life who are behind the KYSS initiative, including a total of 18 GPs, healthcare experts, teachers, and guidance counsellors.
Crosshaven-based Mr Walsh, whose appointment has been supported by the HSE South, will work initially for 20 hours per week.
However, Garda O’Mahony said a fundraising initiative, due to start in September, is aimed at creating a full-time position.
Based at Bandon Garda Station, Garda O’Mahony said KYSS adopts a two-tier model approach to assisting young people through prevention and crisis intervention.
“We assist 200 young people but, effectively, it’s 200 families in the five or six parishes around Kinsale. It’s important that the whole family is involved.”
Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch and a senior HSE official Gretta Crowley both commended the group.
Ms Crowley, operations manager with HSE South, said KYSS’s series of initiatives — such as wristbands and booklets along with the new appointment — showed the group to be a “model of excellence” on addressing mental health and related issues facing young people.
She gave assurances the HSE would continue to work with community groups in finding solutions to problems.
Ms Lynch, meanwhile, said it was important families listen to young people. “How do we convince the young people they are the light of our eyes,” said the minister, as she noted: “Policies are national but solutions are local.”
Kinsale-based Dr Tony Foley, part of the KYSS group, said heavy drinking and drugs misuse are some of the risk factors associated with mental health issues in young people.
Early intervention, interagency supports, and the presence, on the ground, of youth workers were among the key factors in addressing the problems, he said.
Welcoming the appointment of the youth worker, Dr Foley said the “presence of one good adult that a young person can turn to in a moment of need” was very significant.
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