UCC University of Sanctuary & Fáilte Refugees student activist Mair Kelly discusses the complexities posed by Ireland’s lack of mental health supports available to ethinic minority communities.
Ireland’s mental health services are seriously lacking, but for people of colour (POC) and ethnic minority communities, there are further barriers to accessing these ever-crucial services: the built-in biases of society, bolstered by institutionalisation.
In the last thirty years, the island of Ireland has diversified, yet there appears still to be inadequate support in place for POC. A lack of awareness and open-mindedness towards different cultures continues to be a significant barrier. Cultural norms are different all over the world, in many communities traditional medicines and practices are valued as much as scientific or holistic approaches. Stigma around some practices can alienate people from the services they need.
Language is another issue faced. Not everyone in Ireland speaks fluent English and a significant lack of interpreters and translated information obstructs people seeking help. Some might have to bring a family member to appointments, or occasionally their own child to translate. This can lead to situations where children are learning about the prognosis before their parents.
Talking with Amano Miura, Racial And Ethnic Minority Rep for UCCSU, she described how important it is that the mental health services we provide can respond to the needs of the entire community, not just the few: “Representation for people of ethnic minorities and people of colour in these services is essential in ensuring people’s voices and lived experiences are better understood. There needs to be more education in working with different cultural and religious practices so that people can receive the help they need.”
For over 6,000 people there is the barrier of Direct Provision (DP): Ireland’s reception system for people seeking asylum, where they wait for results on their application. Originally launched as a temporary six-month measure in 2000, now in 2021 some people have lived in these centres for over a decade. By its very nature, people seeking asylum have often gone through traumatic situations before coming to Ireland and need appropriate support but are left to wait in a dehumanising and isolating prison that further exacerbates this trauma.
Many centres are old B&Bs or hotels in isolated rural areas. With the majority of mental health services based in urban areas, those who most need the services are the furthest away from them and do not have the requisite supports to access them. People in DP live on a meagre €38.80 a week, the expense of transport to access services and the services themselves, followed by the issue of transport links, lack of child support in DP, timetabled meals among other barriers means people are left choosing which basic need they need to satisfy.
MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) described how there were no supports for mental health in the centres, apart from prescribing antidepressants. “All the suicide deaths that happen in direct provision could be prevented if mental health care was taken seriously. Remember that direct provision is a depressing set-up on it’s own.” MASI cites a lack of mental health support as the cause for loss of life in the last year, disheartenedly telling Motley that they “have been highlighting this for years, [and] nothing is being done.”
Ireland’s mental health services need more support. There are a number of organisations that do offer some support, like Black Therapists Ireland and the Cork Migrant Centre who have the necessary knowledge and skills to provide help. But for a land that is proud of its Céad míle fáilte, we are falling short in terms of our humanity. It is essential that the Government supports the education and training sector to enable mental health services to address the outstanding issues of inclusivity and accessibility for every member of our community.
Migrant Rights Centre 01 889 7570
MASI 083 1713 166