Mental health must become ‘national priority’ as pandemic subsides

More than 50 community, voluntary leaders urge ‘step-change’ in funding levels

In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Monday,  industry leaders urge Government to invest an additional €85 million in mental health services to deal with the emerging ‘shadow pandemic’. Photograph: iStock

In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Monday, industry leaders urge Government to invest an additional €85 million in mental health services to deal with the emerging ‘shadow pandemic’. Photograph: iStock

 

Mental health must become the “national priority” as Ireland moves to the next phase of the pandemic, according to a coalition of more than 50 leaders in the community and voluntary sector.

In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Monday, published by Mental Health Reform, industry leaders urge Government to invest an additional €85 million in mental health services to deal with the emerging “shadow pandemic”.

Signatories of the letter included the chief executives of Jigsaw, Pieta House, Alone, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Alcohol Action Ireland, Samaritans Ireland, the Irish Council for Psychotherapy, and the Psychological Society of Ireland.

The coalition is calling for a “clear and comprehensive” response from the Government, complemented by a “step-change” in funding levels. The “historical underinvestment” in Ireland’s mental health services must be addressed in Budget 2022.

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Over the last 18 months, the Government’s focus has “understandably been on tackling the direct impact” of Covid-19, but now is the time for mental health to be prioritised, the group affirms. Many individuals were struggling to access basic supports needed to stay well even before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has adversely affected the physical and mental wellbeing of many more, the letter goes on.

“Thousands more people have come forward to access mental health services funding this difficult period. There has been a disproportionate impact on marginalised groups who face significant challenges in accessing mental health care.

“Now more than ever we need a fit-for-purpose, culturally inclusive, responsive mental health system in which people can access the care they need when they need it,” the letter continues.

Additional funding

At least €85 million in additional funding is required, the group recommends. Of this, €65 million should be used to develop new mental health services, while €20 million would go towards existing services. In the last budget, €38 million was earmarked for new mental health measures, while the overall mental health budget topped €1 billion.

Of the total health budget, 5.1 per cent went towards mental health services in 2021, compared to nearly 13 per cent in the United Kingdom, according to Mental Health Reform. This, the coalition suggests, should increase to 10 per cent by 2024, which is the level recommended by Sláintecare.

The Department of Health should prioritise the recruitment of primary care and assistant psychologists to reduce waiting lists and divert referrals from specialist services, the coalition recommends. An investment of €2 million should go towards national advocacy services for children and adults with mental health difficulties in the community, hospital, prison and residencies.

The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services should be expanded to improve out-of-hours crisis interventions, at a cost of €6.5 million, while investment to the tune of €7.8 million is required to meet specific mental health needs under the Health Service Executive’s National Clinical Programmes. The group is also calling for €5.5 million to be directed to services providing mental health support to people in the prison system.