New ten-year mental health strategy will support whole population, says Government

Sharing the Vision policy replaces Vision for Change which expired in 2016

The development of a mental health system which supports the whole population and focuses on recovery is among the primary goals of the Government’s new Sharing the Vision mental health policy launched this week.

The programme, which lays out recommendations for a "whole-of-government" approach to mental health services over the next decade, focuses on building a system which supports all the people of Ireland, health representatives said on Wednesday.

The new document replaces the 10-year Vision for Change policy, which expired in 2016, and includes an implementation roadmap which organises recommendations into short, medium and long term strategies.

It calls for the establishment of a national implementation and monitoring committee and highlights the importance of social inclusion in mental health supports.


A “stepped care” approach to ensure everyone can access a range of options along with a “community-based” approach to care are flagged as “central” to the policy.

Minister of State Jim Daly said the policy would focus on greater availability of lower level interventions with more “imaginative and creative” supports to ensure all people can access services when they need them.

Mr Daly acknowledged the criticism of the previous 2006 policy for its failure to introduce certain recommendations but commended the latest strategy for its detailed implementation plans for the coming years.

He described the document as “very pertinent” to a post-Covid era and said the pandemic had actually “crystallised a lot of what we need”. Focusing on the amount of money spent on mental health was a “poor yardstick” which was neither constructive nor helpful, he added.

‘Tangible changes’

Hugh Kane, chair of the oversight group, said people with mental health difficulties would be “centrally involved in their own care and recovery” under the new programme which focuses on recovery and “bringing about tangible changes in people’s lives”.

Mr Kane acknowledged that the lack of 24-7 access was a serious among the more than 1,000 service users, family members, carers and friends consulted for the strategy and said the policy recommended “alternative options” to emergency departments where medical assessment was not required. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, the Irish health system has become more familiar with using online resources for connecting with patients, said Mr Kane. While this will never replace face-to-face contact, “technology coupled with new types of staffing will make a range of services more accessible”, he said.

Professor Philip Dodd, psychiatrist and clinical advisor, said the oversight group had examined best international practice in developing the ten-year strategy but added that the central values of “respect, compassion, equity and hope” from the previous document remained as relevant today as they did 14 years ago.

“We can never lose sight of the fact that this is a mental health policy for all people,” said Prof Dodd, adding that work was needed to ensure stronger accessibility and visibility of services.

He called for a “whole of government approach” to the plan and said the group was “under no illusions that there are significant challenges ahead”.

The HSE’s chief operations officer Anne O’Connor said additional mental health support would continue to be provided to both staff and people attending services in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly to those affected by bereavement in recent months.

Return to school

Considerations should also be made as to how to support children as they return to school in the autumn, she said. “People need to feel they are supported by society in respect of their mental health.”

Mental Health Reform, Ireland’s umbrella organisation for mental health charities, welcomed the new strategy and said if delivered properly, would have a “transformative impact”.

The group’s chief executive Fiona Coyle called for funding commitments to the plan in the next programme for government and said delivering the policy would require “strong political leadership, consistent funding and a whole of government approach”. She also recommended the appointment of a super junior minister for mental health in the next government.

The Irish College of General Practitioners called for a “properly funded, integration, structured programme” for the more than 90 per cent of patients with mental health conditions who are cared for by their GP. It welcomed the decision to increase the age range for CAMHS(child and adolescent mental health services) to 25 years but warned of “ongoing issues” and waiting times in accessing these services.

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak

Sorcha Pollak is an Irish Times reporter and cohost of the In the News podcast