FROM being a “career criminal” who started taking heroin at the age of 14, to working voluntarily for Cork Mental Health (CMH), Mallow-based Dean O’Reilly says the organisation is like his family.
Dean, now 34, is originally from Dublin. He moved to Cork 20 years ago with his mother and her partner.
By 16, Dean was sent to prison for seven months because of robbery to fund his drug habit.
“Robbery was my stock in trade. I never went into a house with people in it. But at the time, the drugs had a grip on me. I’ve never had a high like it and I don’t want another one like it.”
When Dean finished primary school, he never went on to secondary education.
“I had an awful temper. I used to assault teachers so I was transferred from school to school. None of them wanted me.”
Thanks to a garda, Dean joined Youth Reach.
“I’ll never forget Garda Noel Touhy. He came along with a truant officer and a juvenile liaison officer because I wasn’t going to school. I was around town breaking into cars. If these people hadn’t listened to me, I’d be in a different place now. They helped me to get off the streets and into Youth Reach. I did cooking courses there, which I liked.”
Dean had never worked legally and before joining Youth Reach, he was in and out of prison. When his partner discovered that he was smoking heroin, “she dragged me to Anchor House in Mallow,” said Dean.
“A counsellor there said the best thing I could do was detach from everything. So I did what nobody expected. I walked into Mallow Garda Station, sober, and confessed to 124 robberies and whatever. The guards knew I was involved in a lot of robberies. I went to court and was remanded. I was sentenced to three years and went into Cork Prison.
“I fell in with the kitchen staff and started washing dishes, working my way up to being in charge of all the prisoners in the kitchen. It saved me. I haven’t touched drugs since.”
Dean got off heroin in prison by going cold turkey in a cell on his own.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though. Dean, who was diagnosed with bipolar depression and ADHD, had, he feels, been self-medicating during his illegal drugs phase. Since coming out of prison in 2018, he was in and out of St Stephens’ Hospital. He couldn’t get a job but wanted to prove to his young son that if he wants things in life, he has to work for them. Feeling suicidal at times, he managed to get qualifications in skills such as fork-lifting but he still couldn’t get work.
In time, Dean was put on psychiatric medication which, he says, works well for him. His partner alerted him to a call out on Facebook for volunteers needed at CMH. She put Dean’s name forward. The people at CMH met him and helped to transform his life. He volunteers in the organisation’s charity shop one day a week. CMH has also given Dean a part time job that pays. He is a storeroom supervisor and delivery co-ordinator for the organisation. At CMH, he has made “wonderful friends”.
He said: “I genuinely love getting up in the morning to go to work. I’ve got my own house now and CMH will help me with the deposit.”
Ballyphehane-based Margaret Doody, 67, also sings the praises of CMH. She has been through rough times. While living in England, she started to self-harm at the age of 24.
“Something happened. That’s what I turned to, to deal with it.”
Margaret retired from a job in retail over two years ago. She has time on her hands now and finds the pandemic difficult.
“Before lockdown, I used to meet a lot of friends. But in the last few months, I’ve been finding things very difficult. This is a difficult time and it is affecting my mental health.”
Over the years, Margaret has been hospitalised on a number of occasions, because of depression. She has made great strides as a result of the support she has got from CMH.
Margaret hasn’t had a drink in 12 years and hasn’t self-harmed in eight to ten years.
“Self-harm will always be with me. It was my coping mechanism. A lot of people don’t understand it. For me, it was like a relief.
“I haven’t done it for a long time but I know the thoughts will always be there. But it’s not a road I want to go back down,” she said.
A trained confectioner and baker, Margaret finds baking therapeutic.
“I haven’t done it in a while now but I have done a lot of wedding cakes over the years. It’s relaxing. And when I do a lot of walking, it takes me out of what’s going on in my head.”
Margaret is on medication for her physical health. She has COPD (Chronic Obstruction Pulmonary Disease).
“I’m on a lot of inhalers and nebulisers to keep it under control. It’s quite good at the moment because I’m not exerting myself too much.”
Margaret used to live in flats and bedsits. When she was in hospital for mental health issues, she was put in contact with CMH to source accommodation.
“Now, thanks to Cork Mental Health (which has a housing association), I have my own space, my home, which is my castle. I love being able to close my front door. I don’t know where I’d be without Cork Mental Health.”
CMH, says Margaret, encourages people to deal with their difficult situations.
“I do some walking, painting and arts and crafts. I’m attending a couple of groups. I’m in a good place now and a lot of that is due to Cork Mental Health. To me, they’re amazing. I can just pick up the phone.”
Because of Covid, Cork Mental Health had to cancel its flag day in August. The charity is instead raising awareness about what it does. To donate, visit the website, www.corkmentalhealth.com or text CMH at 50300 to donate €2. Helpline: 076 6805278.