By Fintan Lambe
RECOGNISING a huge gap in mental health services in North Wexford, a group of volunteers established Talk to Tom in Gorey in July 2012 to offer people immediate access to counselling and psychotherapy services.
In the years since, it has established two centres in Gorey, a fundraising shop, and has run training courses in communities across the country.
'People come to us that are in crisis,' said CEO Ray Cullen. 'We are getting a lot of referrals from GPs to prevent people from being placed on waiting lists.'
The HSE currently has no Child and Adolescence Psychiatric service in Gorey, and since inception, Talk to Tom has seen 525 people, including many young people, use its counselling and psychology service.
Donations are invited, but the idea of it is that people can access such services regardless of their means.
Recognising that they were providing support to people already in crisis, they soon saw a need for programmes which would help prevent people from reaching that crisis point.
'The first programme we brought in was QPR training - Question, Persuade, Refer,' explained Ray.
Talk to Tom introduced this programme for its volunteers in June 2013, and soon ran programmes for Wexford Marine Watch volunteers, members of the Coastguard, RNLI, the Garda Siochána, and various sports clubs and organisations.
'We now have QPR gatekeepers strategically placed around the community,' he said, estimating that 1,500 people have been trained in the programme across the county, and as far away as Kerry, Kilkenny, and Meath.
This is just one of many specialised training programmes that Talk to Tom now offers. A specialised programme for foster carers has been accepted for inclusion at the Irish Foster Carers Association national conference.
A coping skills programme was piloted with 140 students in Bridgetown Vocational College through the school completion programme and Wexford Local Development.
Other programmes are aimed at training teachers, or specialise in areas such as conflict resolution. A parenting and the internet programme looks at cyber-bullying.
The voluntary-run charity has been so successful, that Ray was invited last year as part of a delegation to Brussels to present the Talk to Tom model, and explain how it works. He said that other community groups across Ireland have now been set up using the model.
Talk to Tom is overseen by a voluntary board, and no-one receives remuneration for their services. The charity's work is funded by a charity shop in Gorey, and various fundraising events.