by Bronagh Loughlin

A young woman from East Meath who has had to deal with the hardship of losing her best friend to suicide during the COVID-19 pandemic has told Meath Live she feels that a contributing factor to her friend’s death was the lack of adequate mental health services in Ireland.

The death of a friend or family member is never easy to come to terms with, saying goodbye is very difficult, however, in this instance, Liadh Hannan never got to say goodbye to her best friend due to COVID-19 restrictions.

She explained the difficult circumstances that surrounded her friends passing,  “I didn’t get to say goodbye to my best friend of 11 years due to the COVID-19 restrictions. From seeing her last artificially-supported breath from a photograph sent to me in the hospital car park, to laying out a final glitzy purple outfit for her to be dressed in that, due to the restrictions, she would never get to wear.

“Due to funerals being limited to only 10 people, I waited outside the crematorium as a closed coffin was wheeled past me into the large glass building, a coffin that contained my best friend who I had known since the first day of secondary school, who I now realised I would never see again. A devastating moment of realisation that should never be spent alone”.

Liadh feels it is hard enough to lose someone to suicide but that it is even harder to lose someone who actively tried to get help to only be denied.

“Losing someone from suicide is painful in any circumstance. I have found it even more difficult to come to terms with losing someone who was not officially diagnosed with mental health problems, despite frequenting their GP as well as private psychologists while clearly suffering from bouts of depression, anxiety and even perhaps other, less talked about intermittent mental illnesses which present themselves episodically as opposed to consistently.

“It is a failure of Ireland’s mental health system that a qualified physiotherapist with a first-class honours RCSI degree and a trained yoga teacher who directed her studies to focus on the benefits of physical activity on mental health lost her battle against the very thing that she was so passionate and highly educated in – where does this leave the rest of us?”

Liadh spoke out on her own social media platforms about this topic because it has left her so frustrated with the system as a whole. This frustration derives from not only her best friend’s passing but also from Liadh’s personal experience of Ireland’s mental health system.

She says, “I, myself, have been a service-user in this country’s mental health facilities as a young child, a teenager, college student and presently as a graduate. I have felt failed by the system at all these developmental junctures in my life. This has been a longstanding part of my existence, however more recently, following the death of my friend to suicide and the admittance of other friends into psychiatric hospital, and also more commonly the overall depreciation in the quality of life of my peers during this pandemic, it has emphasised to me the complete lack of resources and funding invested into the mental health sector.

“I have witnessed the denial of proper treatment to both inpatient and outpatients in the public and private services – this paints a poor picture of all facets of the current mental health system operating in this country.”

“When vulnerable people are coming forward and reaching out for help it’s very disheartening to be denied the help due to insufficient training, under funding and lack of availability. Due to this, many people are left hopeless which leads to a poor quality of life – it’s not enough just to exist. We deserve more.”

Liadh feels that all everyone is so focused on the COVID-19 pandemic that they have forgotten about the importance of good mental health and wellbeing. As a result, she has noticed that many have come to develop mental health issues or those with mental health issues have gotten worse.

She says, “Mental health issues have become more pronounced during this pandemic due to limited contact with loved ones, many people losing their jobs, no socialising, no sports or community activities, essentially no outlets to distract people who are struggling to escape their own minds. This results in suicidal thoughts becoming more prominent and unfortunately, many have acted on these thoughts during this period.”

“Many of my friends have sought help from the A&E services in crisis situations (as they have been advised to do by mental healthcare professionals), only for physical symptoms to be addressed but due to the lack of any mental health facilities, they are then simply sent home with a leaflet about suicide and a heavy feeling of hopelessness.”

“Throughout the covid-19 pandemic, access to mental health professionals has been limited with little flexibility on the part of the service providers. My care should not be reduced to a singular phone call that I am told can be any time the week prior to the actual appointment.

The anticipation of a call that is loosely booked within the timeframe of that week can lead to anxiety due to uncertainty on the part of service users like myself.”

“More practical problems that I and many friends of mine have encountered during the pandemic revolve around appointments with mental healthcare professionals being provided online as opposed to in person. Finding a private and safe space in which to conduct sessions can be an issue for those at home who may not feel comfortable going into the same amount of detail with mental health professionals that they may be able to in a face to face scenario. This can lead to stunted progress in healthcare plans.”

“When it comes to mental health, young people are being disproportionately impacted by this pandemic and the resulting constriction of our society. Young people have watched as once-abundant opportunities have all but disappeared, as the ability to celebrate and enjoy once-in-a-lifetime milestones, whether their first day in college or their graduation, have been stolen, as their once-bright futures have suddenly become uncertain.”

“People with social anxiety, agoraphobia and other mental health concerns relating to being triggered into fight or flight states in public situations, whose previous coping mechanisms may have involved reminding themselves there is no real threat to their lives in a supermarket or a café, are now struggling even more as these coping mechanisms are rendered invalid in light of the reality that there is now a very real threat to their safety in public spheres.”