Ahead of the hectic festival season, festival welfare service PsyCare are looking for volunteers to help them in the provision of life-saving psychological care and education for Irish festival goers. PsyCare Ireland founding members Dr Kathryn Ledden and Psychotherapist Michael Ledden answer our questions.
What is PsyCare, and what is it seeking to achieve at festivals this summer?
“PsyCare Ireland is a volunteer-led non-profit that provides a 24-hour welfare services for festivalgoers in psychological difficulty, including substance-induced distress. Last year, PsyCare Ireland trained 40 volunteers and provided support at five festivals, including Another Love Story, Fuinneamh and Day of the Dead. We also hosted a harm reduction workshop at Electric Picnic. This summer, we hope to offer our service to more festivals and help create a safer environment for festival-goers.
We’ve been inspired by similar successful projects abroad, such as PsyCare UK and Kosmicare in Portugal and have seen how someone’s darkest hour can be transformed when they feel cared for and supported. This summer, we hope to roll out our service to as many festivals as possible and help create a cultural shift in how we treat people who use substances. We are the first dedicated organisation to offer this care model to gig-goers in Ireland. We want to hear from people who would like to join our dynamic team to help support people in crisis.”
What services does PsyCare provide at festivals?
“PsyCare Ireland provides mental health first aid to anyone at an event who experiences any kind of psychological distress. This may include anything from being bullied, overstimulated or underlying trauma being triggered. We also offer specialist crisis intervention for those who might be under the influence of drugs and alcohol. We work from softly furnished bell tents on the festival site that is open 24- hours a day during the event. Festival-goers in difficulty can come to us and find a safe space and compassionate support. We also offer fact-based harm reduction information for people who are planning to take drugs. This information can be life-saving. Festival welfare is a much-needed service at Irish festivals. We’ve experienced first-hand how our service can help the attendees and also take the pressure off other services such as the medics, Gardaí and security.”
“We also offer fact-based harm reduction information for people who are planning to take drugs. This information can be life-saving.”
How important is the current volunteer recruitment drive, and what can those signing up expect?
“This kind of mental health service can be lifesaving but we need more volunteers. We’re looking for the best candidates to work with us and join our community. While having experience working in mental health or first aid is advantageous, we accept volunteers from all backgrounds. The most important attribute is that someone is empathetic and non-judgemental of people who use drugs. Volunteers are asked to undergo two days of training, allow background checks and adhere to our volunteer handbook. Training is facilitated by a core team that includes nurses, psychiatrists and psychotherapists and will take place over two days. Volunteers will learn about drug combinations and interactions so they can educate festivalgoers to make informed decisions. The training also covers how to recognise if someone needs medical attention, provide comfort and care to someone experiencing psychological difficulties and support those in a substance-induced crisis. During festival season, volunteers will be offered six-hour shifts with 24 hours off in between shifts to enjoy the event.”
“Volunteers will learn about drug combinations and interactions so they can educate festivalgoers to make informed decisions.”
After tentative drug testing services at Electric Picnic last year, what do we need to realise this year to step up to the mark?
“As an organisation, we feel that attitudes towards people who use drugs are changing in Ireland. We have a complex and tolerant attitude towards alcohol despite it being the single most harmful substance in the country per capita, alongside tobacco. Up till now, there hasn’t been much of a national debate around drugs despite their prevalence in Irish society.
The recent drug testing by the HSE at Electric Picnic, the Joint Justice Committee Report and a statement from the Tainiste endorsing decriminalisation of drugs are huge steps forward. We support treating drug users with a health-led approach rather than treating them as criminals.
Australia has recently legalised MDMA and Psilocybin (magic mushrooms) as aids for therapy. This shows how many of the substances people take at Irish festivals can create powerful emotional states. PsyCare Ireland wants to support people having misadventures and educate people to make better choices.”
Volunteer applications are open until the 13th of April.
Please can apply online www.psycareireland.org
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