Health care professionals must make better use of community-based, self-help groups for patients with mental health issues, according to the mental health organisation GROW.
The latest figures from the organisation show that only 37% of people attending its services have been referred by GPs, psychiatrist and other mental health professionals.
According to Grow Ireland CEO, Michele Kerrigan, poor integration between professional services and community support group networks means many patients are being denied a very effective resource.
“The mental health services are under continued pressure. In January of this year, one in four people were waiting more than three months to be seen by a community mental health team. By July that had increased to almost one in three. In the face of every tightening budgets, we need to find ways of providing effective and timely care to people who are experiencing mental health problems,” she said.
“Numerous studies have shown that the self-care and peer support services provided by voluntary organisations like Grow, have significant benefits in terms of reducing hospitalisations, improving patient outcomes and reducing costs. Yet only a very small proportion of the people who come to us for help are actually referred by health care professionals,” she said.
The Grow model of care is based on a combination of cognitive training and peer support similar to that provided by Alcoholics Anonymous and incorporates an adapted 12-step programme. The organisation operates more than 130 groups around the country and hosts more than 6,500 meetings every year.
Studies have shown that the Grow model of care reduces the number and duration of hospitalisations, as well as increasing feelings of security and self-esteem and reducing anxiety.
Participants also demonstrate improved coping skills, greater acceptance of their illness, improved medication adherence, and improved daily functioning.
Christine Fitzgerald has been attending GROW meetings for 20 years. Having suffered from panic attacks and depression for many years, she eventually became suicidal and was admitted to hospital. It was there that she first became aware of the organisation.
Ms Fitzgerald said: “I had reached a point where I thought nothing would help me. Like a lot of people in this situation, I had lost all hope of ever being a well person again. If it wasn’t for a commitment to my family, I wouldn’t have gone to that first meeting.
“In the beginning I couldn’t make sense of what was going on at the meeting. My concentration was poor and I struggled to take on board what was happening. In spite of that, the one thing I did hear clearly every week was the story. At the beginning of a GROW meeting, someone shares their story and this is what kept me coming back each week.
"I always felt nobody in the world felt like me or could understand my problems but the more I listened to members sharing their stories each week, the more I realised I wasn’t the only one feeling like this. This realisation was such an enormous relief as I had for years felt so alone.
“Slowly with the encouragement of other members I started to talk about my life and what was going on for me. Gradually I started to take the advice and work on something practical every week to improve my life. It was small things to start with and as time moved on and I felt better, I took on more challenging tasks. I put my life back together and I have not suffered from any mental health problems for over 20 years,” Christine says.
To mark Mental Health Day, GROW has launched a series of videos where members share their experiences of mental illness and recovery. The videos are available at www.grow.ie.