One in four is the figure quoted by Amnesty International and the World Health Organisation. And the figure is rising. Yet Government funding for mental health has fallen from 13% to 7% of the health budget. Suicide, violence, addiction, homelessness, despair are rising, as is the cost of providing our over-stretched mental health services.
To help combat this state of affairs, GROW, Ireland’s largest mutual help organisation in mental health, is launching an initiative which will see 100 new self-help groups in Dublin within five years. GROW is an international organisation which receives core funding from the Department of Health and Children. Its members have suffered mental and emotional distress, including depression. Starting on September 15, we intend to recruit and train 15 volunteers, each of whom, after six months, will be in a position to open a mutual help group and offer real hope of recovery to up to 15 others. That means that within 12 months almost 300 people will be improving their mental health and developing leadership skills.
These leadership skills will be channelled back into the community through initiatives aimed at young people, prisoners, the homeless, wherever there is a need. And this is only the beginning. Within five years, GROW aims to have 100 groups established in the greater Dublin area.
Existing mental health services are extremely inadequate. Many sectors have no psychologists, no adolescent services, no family therapy or specialist help. Many of them are run by people in temporary positions with little power or incentive to formulate long-term policies. There is an almost total reliance on medication as the prime means of treating mental illness. The inspector of mental hospitals has repeatedly condemned this and the lack of choice or alternatives. GROW is hoping its initiative will help fill this gap.
Research in America (Christensen and Jacobson) has shown that trained volunteers are as effective as professionals in the process of recovery. This is a startling fact that has been largely ignored by the State and by professionals. Recent research into GROW in Ireland (Dunne and Henry) confirms that members help each other to get better; they are enabled to reduce or leave medication, hospital and professional help behind and they discover better ways to cope with problems of living. They also develop unique leadership skills born of their own experience of mental illness and recovery. The research also shows that very few professionals or State bodies actively refer people to self help.
GROW seeks suitable volunteers who can make a real difference. An information night will be held in the Royal Dublin Hotel, O’Connell Street, on September 15 at 7.30pm. For more information, ring 01 8734029 or contact me on 086 3352368.