76th Árd Fheis

Mental Health Services

Speech by Dan Neville TD to the 76th Árd Fheis of Fine Gael, Conference Centre, Dublin on 31st March 2012

Mental ill health is not only damaging to the sufferer, their family and community, it is damaging to the economy. In 2008, the Mental Health Commission published a report which estimated the direct cost of mental health at a staggering €3 billion in 2006. This is the cost to the taxpayer of decades of Government neglect and the isolation of services.

Mental Health is central in building a healthy, inclusive and productive society. Illness like depression and schizophrenia can be treated successfully for the vast majority of sufferers and with early intervention and treatment people can live healthy lives, fulfilling their individual potential.

In January 2006, the last Government adopted the recommendations of the expert group as set out in its report ‘A Vision for Change’ as the basis for the development of the mental health services in Ireland. This report was greeted by near universal approval as the best model for a modern, comprehensive, world-class service to meet the mental health challenges facing our society.

The previous Government failed to progress the recommendations in a Vision for Change. Stigma continues to be a major issue for many people with mental health problems.

In its Mental Health Policy entitled ‘A Vision for Hope’ Fine Gael committed itself to giving mental health a national priority by providing treatment in primary care in the community, developing human resources, educating the public and placing an emphasis on recovery. Fine Gael is committed to introducing a comprehensive range of mental health services. These will be included as part of the standard insurance package offered under Universal Health Insurance. We will close unsuitable psychiatric institutions moving patients to more appropriate community-based facilities and develop specific strategies for elderly patients. We will endeavour to end the practice of placing children in adult psychiatric wards

The programme for Government committed itself to reducing the stigma of mental illness, ensuring early and appropriate intervention and vastly improving access to modern mental health services in the community.

In his budget the Minister for Finance, Michal Noonan TD, recognised the serious deficiency in the mental health services and in line with the programme for Government, allocated €35 million to develop community based mental health teams and services. This will ensure early access to more appropriate services for adults and children and improved integration with primary care services. I strongly welcome that €4 million of this has been allocated to the National Suicide Prevention Office bringing its budget to €7.4 million.

In 2010, in excess of 600 people died by suicide. This is one of the most serious mental health issues facing society. International research shows that for a 1% increase in unemployment there is a 0.07% increase in suicide. Those who died by suicide wanted to live as much as anyone else but living became too painful for them. They did not want to die but just could not bear to live in the incredible pain that their illness and circumstances was causing them.

The potential psychological impact of economic recession on public health is severe and levels of suicide, attempted suicide and self- harming has increased substantially. Unemployment, job insecurity and money worries lead to an increase in mental health problems and suicide. It leads to a rise in substance abuse and breakdown in relationships. The threat of home foreclosures is also of particular concern, and the threat of losing one’s home has been found to be one of the most common economic strains associated with suicide. Of particular concern is that Ireland has the fourth highest youth suicide rate in Europe after Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. This is of particular concern.

The Minister for Health, Dr. James O’Reilly TD, and the Government have committed to ensuring early intervention and improving mental health services in the community, to introducing comprehensive suicide prevention programmes and in supporting the work of the many groups and individuals in assisting the bereaved of suicide who face the harsh reality that their loved ones found life too painful to continue living.

As a campaigner in the mental health and suicide prevention area for many years, I will continue to work with the Government to ensure that the promised programme is implemented. We commit ourselves to helping the one in four of our people who suffer a mental or psychological difficulty. The time to do it is now. There is no time to waste!