Mental health services: Swap anger for a hopeful challenge

Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin at 10.30am tomorrow.

Mental health services: Swap anger for a hopeful challenge

Pope Francis will arrive in Dublin at 10.30am tomorrow.

From the moment the Vatican confirmed that the 266th leader of the Catholic Church would be the second Pope to visit Ireland the air has bristled with anger over how his Church and his predecessors mishandled the global clerical child sex abuse scandals.

That dialogue, if it can be called that, will reach a climax over the coming days. Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of people will welcome Francis; many more, maybe even the majority, will shrug with the weary indifference born of betrayal. Others still will join protests to highlight Catholicism’s failure to confront evil. At this heightened moment, it may be hard to imagine that these three groupings — we’re all in one or the other — have something in common but they have.

Just as earlier generations turned a blind eye to charnel house mother and baby homes, industrial schools where abuse was everyday, the Magdalene gulags, and the gross corruption of moving paedophile priests from one parish to another, from one set of children to another, today’s tolerance of a situation where children in the depths of a mental health crisis struggle to find refuge is as bad.

The scale of the immorality may be different but neglect and cruelty are just as sharp. After all, a life ruined by a Sean Fortune or a Brendan Smyth is hardly very different from a young life squandered because mental health support is not available at a moment of crisis. Yet, the HSE has told doctors in Cork that its specialist service for children in a mental health crisis is closed to new referrals. If GPs have “immediate concerns” they can send children to an emergency department. That 162 children are already on a waiting list cannot inspire confidence either.

What it does inspire though is a sense of anger that our health service has failed to resolve these matters. This issue has arisen before and any response to it must be framed by international reports showing we spend more than the EU average on health provision but get below average outcomes. That, just two years ago, Kathleen Lynch, then minister with responsibility for mental health services, had to fight her cabinet colleagues to prevent a third of her budget — €12m of €53m — being moved to “electorally more sensitive areas” gives a glimpse of the culture in play. That response must also be influenced by Unicef figures that show Ireland has the fourth highest rate of suicide amongst teenagers in the EU.

Maybe it’s time we replaced justified anger with hopeful challenge by insisting that today’s abuse scandals — mental health services provision is just one of many — be resolved. How better to honour those abandoned in the past than to throw a lifeline to those abandoned today? Especially as we, not the Catholic Church, are responsible.

Today we report that Fine Gael ministers worry that their “posh boy” image and the housing crisis will “kill” their election prospects. They also fret that pictures of Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in his swimming trunks at a cabinet meeting in Kerry jeopardise their hopes. This suggests that the Catholic Church may not be the only institution dangerously disconnected from its constituency.

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