Sli Eile triumphs over prejudice and Ministerial opposition
The mental health organisation, Sli Eile, that was prevented from opening its first transition residence in an estate in Charleville, Co Cork, by locals supported by a government minister, has been invited to open a second residence in Ennis, Co Clare. Sli Eile opened its first house at an alternative address in Charleville.
The invitation to open a residence in Ennis was disclosed at a Sli Eile conference in Charleville on Friday, 18 April, by the founder of the organisation, Joan Hamilton. In the course of her opening remarks Joan Hamilton spoke of her own background and that of Sli Eile.
She said she came to Charleville from the Channel Island, with her husband, Gerry, in 1967 and lived in a nearby village, Dromina. They had four sons and two daughters, the youngest of whom began to experience emotional and psychological difficulties. She was first admitted to a psychiatric unit in 1982. She went through serial admissions and readmissions to psychiatric hospitals, often locked in a room with over 20 people, with nothing to do throughout the day.
She said: “visiting her and then leaving her became, for me, unbearable. I'd be in tears by the time I made it to my car. And whilst I felt I was failing her, I couldn't find any alternative.” She decided to go public and did a radio interview with RTE in Cork, after which half a dozen families contacted her. But then: “I was diagnosed with cancer and needed to take time out for surgery and treatment but kept in touch with two of those families.”
“Towards the end of 2000 we got going again and within a short time, there were five families meeting up – all with a son or daughter in the psychiatric system and we all felt, that whilst the drug treatment they received in hospital appeared at first to help, when they were discharged back to where they had their breakdown, without support or backup and without having addressed the cause of the breakdown.”
She organised a one-day conference in a Cork hotel and this was attended by over 700 people. More than 30 people spoke from the floor and one horror story after another was relayed.
“Around that time, a friend gave me a chapter of a book by Dr Peter Breggin, Toxic Psychiatry, in which there was a chapter about using community living as a method of recovery. So the seed was sown for what is now another way – Slí Eile – set up to create an environment for the process of recovery.
“Most of all people (who experience psychological breakdown) say they feel cut off from normal relationships with family, friends and the wider community They feel isolated and alienated . Above all, (such) people say they need support to re-build these relationships within an accepting and supportive environment”. She went on to establish a pilot housing project. “I contacted various people I felt were like minded and asked would they come on Board to set up a supported housing project – using Community Living as a way to recovery, Slí Eile.
The first attempted project was unsuccessful because the funding fell through. Then came the project in Charleville's Pike Farm estate, where residents picketed the transition house, eventually driving Slí Eile away. It was during that period that the Minister for State gave support to the picketing residents. The Minister being Batt O'Keeffe.
Eventually another house was found in Charleville and that is now being used as a transition for people coming out of mental hospitals, enabling them to begin to cope with everyday living. Arising from the success of that a group in Ennis has invited Slí Eile to establish a residence there but no decision has yet been taken about the project.