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Irish charity Connect offers free counselling service to British-based abuse survivors

An Irish counselling charity fears Irish victims of abuse could be falling between the cracks in Britain.

A lack of culturally specific services is putting vulnerable Irish people living here at risk of suicide, substance abuse and other mental health problems.

As a result Dublin-based group Connect is looking to work with more UK support groups to help those most at risk.

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Connect’s 2011 service figures show it received at total of 10,384 calls last year. Yet only two per cent of those calls were from Britain and the North of Ireland.

Research, however, suggests almost one-in-five Irish institutional abuse survivors live here.

Theresa Merrigan, manager at Connect, says they are now working with charities like icap and the Federation of Irish Societies to raise awareness of their services.

“Generally the impact of abuse is very wide ranging,” she said. “It can be everything from emotional to physical manifestations of trauma, right up to mental health difficulties, substance abuse, anxiety and anger. People can become isolated. There is something about connecting with a service in Ireland and speaking to Irish people who have that cultural understanding of somebody’s background.”

There have been a total of 42,183 calls made to Connect since it began in 2006 as a result of strong lobbying by survivor groups in Britain and Ireland.

Ms Merrigan said: “At the time a lot of the representatives of institutional abuse would have been receiving phone calls at night time and over the weekend from people in distress, particularly around the time of the Ryan and Murphy reports. One of the things they lobbied Government for was a professionally staffed telephone service, in that the people who would answer the phone would be trained psycotherapists but also that it would be out of hours.”

Up to 90 per cent of calls to Connect are repeat calls from people looking to avail of on-going support for a period of time while they await face-to-face counselling.

“Our service is quite specialised,” Ms Merrigan said. “We’re very familiar with institutional abuse but we also support anyone who has experienced abuse in their childhood. But it was discussed at board level that there are people living in the UK who may benefit from the service. The low numbers of people calling could be down to the fact they don’t know we’re here or that it’s free phone from a landline.”

She added: “We have been in touch with the Federation of Irish Societies and they will have a dedicated web page going live soon. But we’re very much on the early stages of making links and would hope to get to all those groups in the next six months.”

Connect is free from landlines across Britain but charges do occur from mobile calls with some providers. The service is available Wednesday to Sunday from 6-10pm at 0800 477 477 77.

In 2010 Connect became the first Irish service to receive Britain’s Helplines Association Quality Standard mark.

A profile of survivors of abuse in Irish religious institutions

A report by Mary Higgins for St. Stephen’s Green Trust in 2010 found that…

•80 per cent are aged over 49 and just over half of these are over 60 and 7 per cent over 70.

•The level of education in care facilities was very poor and over 70 per cent spent their lifetime in manual, casual and other low paid work.

•The lack of preparation for life outside the institution left survivors vulnerable to exploitation and for some this was a contributory factor to lives of homelessness, substance abuse and anti-social behaviour.

•Long-term emotional and mental health problems were experienced by four out of five.

•For men these difficulties tend to manifest in risk taking sex, delinquency, crime, violence, alcohol abuse while for women they manifest in anxieties, depression, eating disorders, mood disorders and suicidal tendencies.

•In spite of these difficulties, almost 60 per cent were in stable relationships, the majority for extended periods.

•Just 7 per cent were separated and 27 per cent were single.

•More women were single than men (35 per cent compared to 29 per cent.)


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