Just as we require healthcare services for physical ailments, we also require a system which treats our good mental health as a priority. Physical and mental health are inextricably linked and in this day and age, any world class health service must treat our minds as well as our bodies.
The causes of bad mental health are complex and there are many societal factors, however decades of mismanagement and underfunding of mental health services, despite the hard work and dedication of frontline professionals, has unfortunately left us with a service which currently does not meet the needs of the people who depend on it. This is by no means irreparable.
Despite the problems which exist, there is reason to be hopeful and ambitious in pursuit of a truly recovery-based, accessible, flexible and effective model of mental health care in Ireland. A Vision for Change identifies many solutions and key proposals needed to reform our mental health services, however it is fourteen years old and remains largely unimplemented. Through uniting the great deal of professional experience available to us and the inspiring work of patients, patient advocates, and loved ones who have campaigned tirelessly for positive changes as well as making mental health reform a Government priority, I believe that we can create the system we so desperately need.
Sinn Féin wants to transform mental health care. To do that we will put in place strategies that work and, crucially, we will back these strategies with the appropriate level of resources.One of the major gaps in the services most commonly experienced by those in distress is the lack of care outside of office hours. People who fear for their safety or the safety of others due to mental ill health are forced to attend crowded and chaotic A&Es such as that at University Hospital Galway (UHG ) which in most cases have no one qualified to deal with their needs.
Others are forced to go to the Gardaí or an out-of-hours GP service which, despite the best efforts of staff, are not adequate in these situations. Far too often, this has led to tragic consequences with people in vulnerable positions taking their lives while in the care of the A&E department or shortly after discharge.To me the solution is clear, mental ill health does not operate by office hours and neither should the services designed to treat it.
Sinn Féin have committed to a 24/7 Mental Health Intervention Unit in Galway within the first term of government to deal with these circumstances. In our plan for Mental Health, we will also ensure that every A&E, garda custody suite, and prison has a Mental Health Nurse available on a 24/7 basis.A holistic approach to mental health policy is required if we are to put measures in place that deal with people suffering mental health difficulties in the long-term. Finding employment which provides an income, a routine and empowers those in recovery is something the state must support.
Ensuring that those who are trying to overcome their illness do not have to worry about evictions or homelessness, for example, is a very basic way of assisting them in long term mental health. In this vein, targeted funding could be provided to support tenancies for people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties in order to prevent homelessness as well as greater support for people with mental health difficulties to enter employment and training schemes. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí – this well-known Irish seanfhocail holds true on many fronts, not least in terms of mental health.
Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí
Schools present a great opportunity to teach young people the necessary coping skills for life while ending the stigma of speaking about our mental health. Through set curricula, children can learn how to express and understand their feelings and how to help others in difficult times. Schools should also be a safe and welcoming place for children experiencing mental health difficulties or struggling generally.
Some of the key proposals I would like to see include the development of a curriculum for Positive Mental Health classes at primary and secondary school level, provision of age appropriate suicide prevention training to all second level students through the National Office of Suicide Prevention and a full time Guidance Counsellor for every secondary school in the state.
The causes and symptoms of mental health difficulties are many and varied, but fundamentally we need to recognise the necessity of building a health service that has the expertise, capacity and appropriate structures to deal with the mental health needs of people. We can’t ignore this issue any longer. The current lack of capacity and one-dimensional approach to mental health services is failing people and the time to act is now. Let’s take on the issue of mental health care in Ireland once and for all.