By: Mercedes Becker
It feels as if it was just yesterday that I was cruising the Irish countryside, exploring castle ruins and monasteries, eating pub “toasties” (toasted sandwiches), and listening to my fabulous tour guide Tom Quinn explain the ins and outs of Irish history. I’ve been back in the states for a few weeks now, but Ireland is still very much on my mind. In fact, just this morning I had to listen to some Johnny Cash because I missed the emerald isle so much (I heard Johnny Cash covers in three different pubs while on my trip. He seems to be very popular over there). My out-of-the-classroom experience was the trip of a lifetime; I feel so lucky to have been able to go.
I realize it may not be obvious how my trip to Ireland fits into my global theme and question, but I hope to explain here how the two tied together. I hope to discover the impact of the global phenomenon of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill on homelessness throughout the world. Beginning in the 1950’s mental patients in the US and many parts of Europe were released from hospitals to be cared for in the community, but as previous research in the US suggests, many of these patients were returned to lives on the streets instead. My questions are: did this effect occur in other places? How did different countries approach this policy change? What were the effects? How do countries address mental illness and homelessness now?
Ireland turns out to be a perfect place to start answering some of these questions. Throughout Ireland, deinstitutionalization is still occurring, as patients are being moved out of many of the outdated mental hospitals. In conjunction with this, the country is seeing an overall cut to mental health care funding for fiscal year 2014. I can foresee these two events being harmful to the community mental health care system, and potentially influencing homelessness in Ireland, but I thought conducting some interviews with professionals might give me more insight. While abroad I interviewed Louise Lennon, director of the Dublin branch of the Simon Community which runs the homeless shelters in Ireland, and Orla Barry, CEO of Mental Health Ireland. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to talk with them, and surprised by some of the things they had to say.
I won’t copy my whole interviews here (I’ll be using the information for my GLI capstone senior year) but I will share some of the highlights.
1. According to Louise, 45% of people at the Simon Community shelter have a diagnosable mental illness.
2. Deinstitutionalization does not tend to contribute significantly to homelessness in Ireland, because mental hospitals may not release patients without a permanent address, although some people do fall through the cracks.
3. Only certain homeless shelters in Ireland collaborate with the mental hospitals.
4. Orla pointed out people with dual diagnoses (suffering from substance abuse and mental illness) are some of the most difficult people to provide services for and also are at greater risk for being homeless.
I talked about these things with Louise and Orla, and so much more. I’m really excited about where this information is going to take my research, and for my capstone project in general. The Irish perspective on this topic is so different from that of the US, which means I have a lot to contrast and compare, which can only mean good things for my project senior year.