Local plan to tackle issue of rural isolation

BY EMMA CONNOLLY  Southern Star April 2018

A CAMPAIGN to tackle rural isolation and the mental health problems it can cause, including suicide, is getting underway in West Cork. It’s spearheaded by Lisheens House suicide prevention centre, which is launching a ‘Friendly Phone Call’ service to target those living in remote areas of the region, and who are suffering from a lack of human interaction.

Mick Kearns of the community- based mental health service will outline details of the initiative, which will get underway this autumn, at an event in the West Cork Hotel in Skibbereen at 8pm on May 3rd.  Loneliness is a very real problem in this area, as more than half of the farmers who took part in The Southern Star’s recent Great West Cork Farming Survey admitted to feeling isolated in their work. Almost all respondents agreed that there are not enough mental health supports available for the agri sector.

Suicide is also a huge issue in West Cork and there have been a number of suicides of young men in recent months. Mick added: ‘Isolation is a huge contributory factor to suicide. This is about addressing and minimising factors that can lead to that, and putting in place services that people in urban areas take for granted.’ Also speaking next Thursday night will be Clare garda Edel Burke who has worked extensively to tackle this problem in both Clare and Mayo.

‘It started back in 2014 when I was based in a rural station and while on patrol I realised that for some people, I would be the only person they would speak to,’ she explained.
Her solution was to run information evenings attended by various agencies, including the HSE and the Samaritans, to give people information and options.
Speaking with her on the evening will be West Cork Garda crime prevention officer Sgt Ian O’Callaghan, who said this region had a higher than average older population, made up of a lot of farmers in isolated areas.

‘By their nature, these people are very trusting. Seasonally, we see an increase in bogus callers who target vulnerable isolated people by charging exorbitant amounts of money to do work or who carry out deception-type burglaries, by purporting to be from, say, a State agency or a utility company. I’ll be raising awareness and talking about security and protection.’ Rural development officer with the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association Sean Sherlock will also attend.

Mick said: ‘The phone service will see people registering, outlining what they want to talk about and agreeing a time of day for that call. If any mental health or medical issues emerge during those conversations, they will be referred on. To complement it, we’ll be running social events like an evening of cards or music every few weeks.’ In existence for three years, and relying entirely on fundraising, Lisheens House is currently applying for HSE funding, which Mick said would be crucial for its future.