Pandemic has made many realise ‘mental health is really important’

Mental Health Reform chief Fiona Coyle says issue has never been as prominent in public discourse

The Covid-19 pandemic has "really shown people" how their mental health is impacted by their social circumstances, the chief executive of Mental Health Reform has said.

Fiona Coyle said she had never seen mental health as prominent in the public discourse as in the past year.

Ms Coyle told a Women’s Mental Health Network webinar on Friday that a time of crisis brings opportunities to address “some of those more intrinsic cultural norms that are embedded in our society and in our thinking”.

“For so long in this country mental health was discussed as a very individual issue that was to do with a person’s biology and there was very little discourse,” she said.


“In the last 10 years it’s growing more and more but I think Covid has really shown people ‘actually my mental health is impacted by my social circumstances’.

“I think there’s an opportunity in that and there’s an opportunity that people now recognise that mental health is really important and our systems and our services were not fit for purpose before Covid.”

Ms Coyle said, however, that diverse voices were not being heard and this was something “we need to work on and challenge”.


She said the new mental health strategy published last year - ‘Sharing the Vision’ - was a huge milestone and provides a lot of opportunity to develop “gender sensitive mental health services across the country”.

"Ireland has no shortage of good policies and actions and documents but paper doesn't change people's lives, we need action and for action, most of the time you need investment as well," she added. "We need to keep our voices loud and keep the pressure on."

Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh, part of the Covid Women’s Voices group and a consultant in general medicine and infectious disease, said the lack of female voices at “high levels” in the decision-making around the Covid-19 pandemic has been “very clear”.

“Something that has been very stark as a healthcare worker and a female was the lack of planning for childcare for healthcare workers throughout all of the waves when all the schools and other childcare facilities were shut and a huge amount of juggling, a burden disportionately carried by women due to that,” she said.

Dr Ní Cheallaigh said Covid Women’s Voices, which was established at the beginning of the third wave, finds it worrying “there is still no plan for childcare if a fourth wave does hit”.

She said healthcare workers, of which 70-80 per cent are female, had witnessed “very traumatic scenes” at work during the pandemic.

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times