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New Driving Simulator

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In June a new driving initiative was launched for service users of St. Patrick’s University Hospital. Senator Eamonn Coghlan launched the new Driving Simulator in Dublin, funded by the Walk In My Shoes campaign.

“The idea for a driving simulator in a mental health hospital has to be acknowledged as an innovative and fresh idea to better their patient’s mental health. Mental Health as a whole is an important matter that should not be shied away from and the creative minds involved in this idea are addressing the matter in exciting ways,” the Senator said at the launch.

The Driving Simulator will be used to facilitate drivers who attend the hospital services for diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, and rehabilitation. The Driving Simulator will help patients to analyze different scenarios to be anticipated while driving, estimate the difficulty of driving conditions and tracking the progress of the driver. The Driving Simulator is state of the art computer equipment that has been designed to reproduce the essential features of a real driving experience and has a driving seat to make the driver feel like they are sitting behind a real steering wheel.

“Many people don’t associate mental health with driving but having confidence and reassurance of one’s self can aid in the quality of driving. This new Driving Simulator provides a great opportunity for re-training as well as increasing levels of awareness of road safety,” CEO, Paul Gilligan said.

“It is well documented that people with a mental illness have difficulty with concentration, attention and memory. The side effects of medication can also affect a person’s ability to drive safely. The driving simulator enables a no-risk experience that can provide additional objective and subjective data and an experience that may help a driver to understand the decisions made about his/her driving privileges,” said Sherrie Buckley, Occupational Therapy Manager.

St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, who is considered to be Ireland’s largest not-for-profit mental health service provider, started a fundraising event to help vulnerable groups in the workplace called ‘Walk in My Shoes’. ‘Walk in My Shoes’ raises funds through a variety of events and host funky shoe days in the office, parachute jumping and gala golf classic days.

A 16-year-old, who was a patient at St. Patrick’s Hospital, said to someone that he wished his friends could put themselves in his shoes and this inspired the idea of creating a charity with the name ‘Walk In My Shoes’. The charity started off as a small idea, asking working people to wear odd shoes or anything funky to the office. They are constantly adding more fundraising events to the charity’s calendar. The funds collected aims to provide a service that makes dealing with mental health disorders easier. A helpline called the St. Patrick’s Helpline, manned by the hospital’s clinicians, is available and funded by Walk In My Shoes. The funds are also applied to other initiatives that aim to target early detection of depression, stress or other related disorders. Walk In My Shoes has added the Driving Simulator to their list of causes.

It has been estimated that mental health issues affect 1 out of 4 people in the workplace because of the stresses involved with keeping up with the fast pace and heavy work load people are faced with at work. Younger people in the workplace suffer more severely and are more vulnerable when it comes to their mental health. One study has shown that suicide that is work related is the number one cause of death among 18-25 year old men in Ireland.

It is important to detect and treat mental health problems in its early stages; if not clinically treated it could lead and in most cases do, to a worse prognosis and could stay with the person for a life-time, causing prolonged suffering. It also hampers personal development, affects education and attacks ones physical health.

Before St. Patrick’s started this service it was estimated that most sufferers were suffering in silence for ten years before saying anything about their problems, but since the charity’s been counselling people in the work place, that number has decreased and brought down to two years.

Statistics tell the story of what not coping with mental health can do to society. A report found:

• That 1 in 4 young people in Ireland will experience a mental health difficulty
• Suicide is the leading cause of death among 18-25 year old men in Ireland and the second most common cause of death generally in this age group
• Ireland has one of the highest suicide rates in the 14-24 age group in the EU
• 75% of all mental health difficulties begin before 24 years of age
• 1 in 6 employees in Ireland will experience a mental health difficulty
• Between 45% and 65% suffer from treatable mental health illnesses such as depression or psychosis.

If conditions of this nature are treated in its early stages, deterioration can be stopped, recovery can be sped up, and relapsing can be prevented. Treatment and counselling can give a young working adult a normal life again and add years of employment to a person’s life, who would have normally retired earlier. Having the freedom to drive can help those who suffer to get out and enjoy the environment, and make travelling easier. Many people with mental health problems find public transport tedious and for them owning a car is absolutely necessary to meet appointments and to get around with. The Driving Stimulator will enable service users to feel safer behind the steering wheel and prepare them for whatever obstacles or accidents they might be confronted with.

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