Minding Ireland: 'Straight away I felt comfortable and, most importantly, listened to'

Roisin Curtin makes some perhaps surprising observations about mental health services she has used — from Limerick University Hospital's acute psychiatric unit, to Jigsaw
Minding Ireland: 'Straight away I felt comfortable and, most importantly, listened to'

In September 2021, 21-year-old Roisin Curtin admitted herself to the acute psychiatric unit in University Hospital Limerick, known locally as 5B.

It wasn’t her first experience with mental health services in Ireland. After a suicide attempt at 15, she was referred to a HSE counsellor via CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).

More recently she received support through Jigsaw — a charity that provides free mental health support to young people aged 12-25.

'I was greeted by the kindest of staff. Nurses, who saw the fear in my eyes, would reassure me that I was safe and that if I needed them at any time or if I just needed a chat, they were there.' So says Roisin Curtin of 5B, the acute psychiatric unit in University Hospital Limerick. 
'I was greeted by the kindest of staff. Nurses, who saw the fear in my eyes, would reassure me that I was safe and that if I needed them at any time or if I just needed a chat, they were there.' So says Roisin Curtin of 5B, the acute psychiatric unit in University Hospital Limerick. 

“It’s a horrible feeling, being unsafe in your own mind. Entering the psychiatric unit of University Hospital Limerick, I recall the sound of other patients chatting in the sitting room, sitting on those typical hospital bedside chairs.  As I waited for my bed to be made up, I was offered a coffee and the smell of tea and toast filled the room.

At first, I didn’t want to tell anyone I was having such dark thoughts, but I felt unsafe to stay within my own head at home. I knew my family were doing all they could for me, but I just couldn’t drag myself out of the fog.

After a discussion with a crisis nurse and the resident psychiatrist at her local mental health care clinic and given the fact that she had tried to take her life merely a few weeks ago, she made the voluntary decision to be admitted to 5B for her own safety.

“I am lucky that I have a very supportive family, who I could talk to about these thoughts, and who, emotionally, helped me pack and accompanied me to the acute mental health care unit where I would end up spending the next three weeks.

“Upon arrival, I was, admittedly, very frightened. I thought ‘Here I am, 20 years old, suicidal, and being locked up in a crazy house’. I remember hugging my mother before I walked in the gate and wondering when I’d get to see her again.

“However, I was greeted by the kindest of staff. Nurses, who saw the fear in my eyes, would reassure me that I was safe and that if I needed them at any time or if I just needed a chat, they were there.”

Roisin handed over her phone charging cables, shoelaces and anything else that could be used as a method to self-harm. 

I recall the nurse who went through my property with me being so kind and explaining the process to me and where my things would be kept. I felt safe, and that’s the priority of a place like this.

“There’s this idea about 5B, that men in white coats just come and drag you into a cell to sit with your thoughts, but what I experienced was warmth and understanding from every angle. Whenever a nurse would come to speak to me, I never felt like I was being interrogated but rather that a kind Samaritan was offering a listening ear."

Roisin also got to explore her feelings with things such as art therapy and relaxation classes. Art therapy helped her to embrace her creative side, which had been dulled by the layer of depression.

“This wasn’t my first experience with mental health care in Ireland. The first time I attempted to take my own life I was 15 years old. After an overdose of prescribed antidepressants, I woke up in Kerry General Hospital and was referred to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for counselling. 

Unfortunately, I found this service very clinical and felt judged when attending my appointments rather than feeling like I was in a comfortable and safe space, which should always be the case when seeking help for your mental health.

The only benefit that I reaped from my time with CAMHS was a prescription for a different medication which seemed to work well with me. I felt as though I had to be on the brink of hurting myself again before my feelings were validated.

Luckily, early in 2021 Roisin found a service called Jigsaw. This time she wasn’t on the edge of a crisis, but knew she felt some sadness niggling at her. She googled counselling services in Limerick and stumbled upon Ireland’s National Youth Mental Health Service. 

“After an email and a phone call I had my screening to see if this service was right for me. Straight away I felt comfortable and most importantly, listened to. I finally felt like even though I wasn’t at breaking point yet, it was still important for my voice to be heard," she says.

“My eight sessions with Jigsaw were by far the most valuable therapeutic experience I have ever had and were completely free of charge. I formed a friendship with my assigned clinician rather than feeling like a patient. 

"It didn’t matter how small my woes seemed to be, I was assured that I was entitled to this space and a helping hand to explore my thoughts and feelings, and that made all the difference.”

• If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.

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