By Lisa O’Neill
SHE is in her 70s and feels alone, isolated and drinks too much. Her daughter emigrated for work and she has no one to care for her.
This older woman is one of thousands of elderly people across the country who suffers a deep sadness that has been brought on by the mass, forced emigration of the younger generation.
And increased loneliness and isolation – can lead to poor health, mental health issues, including depression.
Ironically, at this trying time in Irish history, this is when this Donegal widow will be unable to access help with specialist services as she tries to get herself out of bed each morning.
Mental health care for the elderly has been closed in the county since September.
Political representatives, including Deputy Thomas Pringle, have criticised the HSE for closing the service – and not announcing it publicly for three months.
The widow has told family members she is suicidal – and feels increasingly isolated.
She is only one example of older people across the country who are feeling lost and alone.
A relative told Ireland Today: “We don’t live near her and her daughter has gone away for work to another country.
“Friends passed away and she didn’t have her daughter round anymore.
We don’t live nearby to pop in, so she is increasingly on her own.
She phoned us up and said she had had enough – that she wanted to die. It’s very worrying. I talked her, comforted her, but I am worried about the long-term.
“She is on her own too much. I phone her, her daughter keeps in touch, but no one wants to tell her daughter because she is away from home and there is nothing for her to come home to in respect of work.
“At least at Christmas her daughter will be home a wee while and we will be able to pop up to see her.
“But what about after Christmas. It’s very worrying for us.”
The family were shocked to hear that mental health services had been cut for the elderly in the county.
This same county has traditionally struggled to offer work to its young workforce.
And businesses have suffered, with many shops and pubs closing in the crash.
As the county continues to struggle economically, it appears its community is being neglected also.
Psychologist Alison Rooney said: “It has been estimated that 20-25 per cent of older adults in Ireland have some type of mental health issue at any time.
“U.S studies have suggested that the suicide rate in the older population could be as much as twice as high as in other age groups.
Older people often have to face significant stressful events, such as health problems, financial hardship, loss of important relationships, loss of role after retirement.
“Mental health services involving a multi-disciplinary approach are essential for the older adult population to provide an effective treatment approach.”
One mental health advocate from Donegal, Marie Duffy, said: “It’s a disgrace that older people in Donegal are without the support of a mental health service at the moment.
It’s just another example of how the Government is neglecting people in rural Ireland.
“Mental health services have been treated like the poor relative when it comes to funding.
“Cut backs and a lack of funding, means that these services are below standard.
“Although they are staffed by good people doing great work, they are unable to provide an adequate service due to shortages.
“It makes me angry that this is happening during a time when we should be protecting our older people. Instead we are neglecting their needs.”
Donegal representatives, Deputy Thomas Pringle and Councillor Micháel MacGiolla Easpuig criticised the HSE for the lack of assistance for the elderly.
Deputy Pringle said: Not only are we shocked to discover that the HSE allowed this situation to develop in the first place but that it kept quiet about it for the last three months.
Councillor Easpuig said: “Initially I thought this issue only affected the outreach clinics in Dungloe Community Hospital but on making further enquires we have now discovered that it is affecting the whole county.”
Donegal GPs were informed the services would be closed in September and the HSE has is advising any elderly to inform their local doctor if they are in need.
The HSE state that the closure of services is “temporary,” and that a recruitment drive will begin in 2016 to hire a consultant.
The closure was sparked by difficulties in filling in for a staff member on sick leave.
A HSE spokeswoman said: The Donegal Mental Health Services for Older Persons are maintaining their current case loads and reviews of all clients are continuing.
There is a staffing issue of a temporary nature and in the interim new service users and their families are advised to contact their local GP in the first instance.
“Donegal Mental Health Services wish to reassure the public that the current arrangement is of a temporary nature and every effort is being made to return to a full service as soon as possible.
“The 2016 Mental Health Service Plan includes the proposed appointment of a second full time Consultant with special interest in Older Persons.
Deputy Pringle said he was concerned for users affected for the past three months.
He said that, according to a letter from the clinical director sent to all HSE offices, ‘all referrals received by the Mental Health Service for Older People will be returned to sender.’
”I’m concerned for service users who have been affected by this for three months now,” Deputy Pringle said.
“Elderly people require that these services resume without further delay.”
“What will happen to families trying to deal with an elderly loved one suffering from dementia or mental health problems now that this service has been closed?”
If you have a family member who is affected by this story, get in touch and we will tell your story. Tweet us @Irelandtoday_ or email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
For anyone who is affected by issues raised in this article, call the Samaritans for help on: 116 123
Or call Senior Helpline on: 1850 440 444. This is a confidential listening service for older people run by older people.
Calls cost the price of a local call and the line is open from 10am until 10pm.