TDs and Senators attend Oireachtas symposium on mental health

Ceann Comhairle says politicians not immune to suffering mental health problems

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Feargháil and guest speaker  Alan Quinlan prior to the Oireachtas symposium on  mental health at  Dublin Castle. Photograph: Maxwells

Ceann Comhairle Sean Ó Feargháil and guest speaker Alan Quinlan prior to the Oireachtas symposium on mental health at Dublin Castle. Photograph: Maxwells

 

Politicians are not immune from suffering mental health problems, and Government policy must be updated to tackle the issue, Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Feargháil has said.

Mr Ó Feargháil was speaking at a symposium convened by the Oireachtas on the issue of mental health. It was attended by TDs and Senators from all parties, and was designed to provide an opportunity for parliamentarians to hear from those directly involved in tackling mental health problems, such as professionals working in the sector.

The symposium was also addressed by Alan Quinlan, a former professional rugby player who is now a broadcaster with Newstalk, and heard a panel discussion on how to refresh the Vision for Change policy document launched on mental health in 2006.

Another debate was held on how to promote positive mental health in the workplace and in society at large.

Mr Ó Feargháil said a new policy was needed to follow on from Vision for Change.

“We need to examine what has worked in the old policy, what needs to be improved, what needs to be changed, and what needs to be added to make meaningful change in addressing mental health issues for all of our citizens. We need to provide the resources to make it all happen.”

He said that meetings such as those hosted in Dublin Castle by the Houses of the Oireachtas on Tuesday would not have taken place in the past.

Under the carpet

“As a society mental health was something until recently,we did not want to address. It was brushed under the carpet. It wasn’t something we were prepared to talk about or deal with. Mental health was stigmatised.

“I am reminded of the comment by former US president Bill Clinton who said ‘mental Illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all’.”

He said a quarter of the population would suffer from mental health problems at some stage in their lives, added that politicians were not immune.

Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the US, suffered from severe and debilitating and on occasion suicidal depressions. Winston Churchill complained to friends that he was hounded by the ‘black dog’ – his term for severe and serious depression.

“Given how mental issues have impacted on so many people in so many walks of life, the wonder is that it has taken us so long to face up to the challenge of mental health.”