Depression and suicide are at epidemic level in Ireland and the problems have carried over to the U.S amongIrish immigrants, experts have told the Irish Voice.

With the rate of depression and suicide among Irish people in New York seemingly higher than ever given a rash of recent suicides, various immigration support groups in the city have spoken out in an effort to decrease the stigma of depression and to get people, whether undocumented or not, to come in and ask for help that is both free and confidential.

Laura O’Brien, a licensed clinical social worker at the Emerald Isle Immigration Center and a Columbia University graduate, says that there are a lot of people in deep despair living in New York and wants people to avail of their services.

‘Depression and suicide are an epidemic in Ireland and this has carried over with the newly arrived Irish. Just like there are many organisations doing great work in Ireland, we want people to know that there is help here too. Status is not an obstacle and there is no charge whatsoever. We will not decline anyone.’

‘Sometimes your problems do not leave you at Dublin Airport,’ says Siobhan Dennehy, Executive Director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center, which has offices both in the Bronx and Queens.

‘People feel this pressure when coming to New York that they have to do well and they have to make it but it does not always work out that way. We believe we offer services that are culturally sensitive and we want people to know that we are here to help.’ 

Orla Kelleher, Executive Director of theAisling Irish Immigration Center in the Bronx, concurs with this and states that Irish people, particularly Irish men, have a ‘cover up mentality’ when it comes to their mental health. ‘Irish people tend to conceal rather than reveal problems’, she says. ‘They will ring home and will always say that they are fine rather than reveal whatever issues they are dealing with. They feel embarrassment and shame about asking for help and we are constantly trying to figure out a way to reach people who do not want to ask for help but who are suffering. We have two professional social workers on staff and two voluntary social workers in the evening. There is no charge and status is not an issue.’

Siobhan Dennehy agrees with the notion of a cover up mentality and feels that there has never been a more difficult time to be an Irish person living in New York. ‘A lot of Irish people have lost their jobs over here too and just like home there is a shame in it. A shame in not working, an embarrassment in having financial problems and having to ask for help.’

‘All of these issues are exacerbated when the person is undocumented.’ says Orla Kelleher. ‘They may have unemployment issues, relationship and financial issues but it is hard to have the term illegal lumped on top of that. They may also have health issues and not know where to turn because of their status. Because of this, many people have let a health issue fester and there is obviously a great deal of stress that can go along with this.

We can offer help in these situations and offer advice on affordable health care.’

Siobhan Dennehy also addresses the plight of the undocumented person in New York and states that it is becoming more and more stressful to be in that position. ‘Even taking a trip to Boston now can be a big deal as various transport companies are asking for passports and there is now always the constant threat of ICE agents. People can be exploited by employers because of their status. There are also very human circumstances and the stories people hear about people being unable to return home for family funerals are very real. We see it here all the time as people ask about immigration laws and we have to deliver the hard facts. It has to be hard to be told no, no and no all the time. This can lead to an inevitable trapped feeling.’

Laura O’Brien, who has been a clinical social worker for 20 years, wants people to know that any session she has is completely confidential. ‘I think a lot of people, particularly men, are worried in such a small community that it may come out that they are in trouble. That is not the case. We are bound by the HIPAA laws of confidentiality. Nobody would know that you came into us.’

‘I could be reading a file written about my own mother and still not know that is about her,’ says Siobhan Dennehy. ‘We want to strongly emphasise that any help you get from us here is confidential and will not become the gossip of the community.’

Orla Kelleher has also noticed that people are worried about being spotted coming in and stresses that help can come to them. ‘If someone feels uncomfortable coming in, we can come to you. Our social workers can arrange to meet you outside the office. They can come to your home, meet in a coffee shop or whatever.’

Laura O’Brien notes that people will still be hesitant in coming in and asks for family and friends to notice the warning signs and take action. ‘If you think that a friend or loved one is in trouble, come in to us and we can instruct you on the next step to take. If you think that they will be nervous about coming in, feel free to escort them to their session.’

Despite all the help offered by her organisation and by the Aisling Irish Community Center, Siobhan Dennehy states that there are some people who will simply not ask for help. ‘This is why organisations like us are willing to work with anybody in order to find better ways to reach our target audience and get people to ask for help...because you can lead a horse to water but you cannot get him to drink. We want people to know that we will help anybody with anything they are going through. We just want to strongly emphasise to people who may be suffering that we are here, here to help, so please come in if you are in trouble.’