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Sam Talks: Sharon Slater and Dr John Lannon talk mental health history

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Sharon Slater and Dr John Lannon gave talks on history of mental health care and the needs of asylum seekers for specialised mental health care as part of the Sam Talks series this week .

Sharon Slater is a historian who runs the website, Limerick’s Life. Her talk focused on the now defunct St Joseph’s Psychiatric Hospital, which was opened in 1827.

“As we can see on Mulgrave Street here, as many people would know, it was thought of being the bad – the prison, the mad – the asylum, and just down here were the dead,” Ms Slater said, referring to Mount Saint Lawrence Cemetery.

Some statistics were included on the amount of people hospitalised in Ireland. “In 1961, Ireland had the highest global rate of incarceration in asylums with one in 70 people in the country institutionalised in some form.”

In addition, she said that it was very easy to be committed to the mental hospital for reasons considered bizarre today such as religious excitement, sunstroke, the flu, and drinking too much tea. “It wasn’t necessarily because they had mental health issues,” Ms Slater clarified.

Dr John Lannon, Chairperson of Doras Luimní, was the second speaker.

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He began by mentioning that the College of Psychiatrists in Ireland’s A Vision for Change report “recognises that culturally appropriate services are important.”

Dr Lannon said that “Ireland has become quite diverse in terms of ethnicity and country of origin of people over the past few years. The 2011 census had 766,000 people that had identified themselves as being born outside of Ireland.” Of the 766,000, he said that over 300,000 were born outside of Ireland or the UK.

He said that those impacted by poverty, racism, and discrimination have the most difficult time with coping with mental health issues. Dr Lannon described asylum seekers as “one of the most marginalised groups in Ireland.”

“A lot of what was being done and a lot of what the minority groups were saying is that there isn’t really enough done to provide any of the forms of health services that would be culturally appropriate or particularly, not the mental health services that are required,” he added.

He stressed that because of asylum seekers’ experiences, they have higher rates of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Because many asylum seekers fled from oppression and violence, rates of PTSD are especially high with up to 10 times the level of it compared to the majority population.

He cited conditions of the direct provision housing, segregation from locals, lack of trust in government, language barriers as reasons asylum seekers are more vulnerable.

Dr Lannon finished the talk by saying that organisations like Doras Luimní and the Samaritans make a small difference, but it isn’t enough.

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