Making mental health an election issue


Sir, – Dr Shari McDaid is absolutely correct: “Voters can make mental health an election issue” (Opinion & Analysis, December 28th).

More than a century ago, Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902), a German doctor and politician, declared that “medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine on a large scale”.

Funding of all public services is a political matter, and while recent years have seen real progress in mental health services and legislation, reform must be continuous.

It is still the case that people with mental illness are at increased risk of neglect, underemployment, homelessness, imprisonment, and poor physical health – men with schizophrenia die 15 years earlier, and women 12 years earlier, than the rest of the population. This is not a result of unnatural deaths – the leading causes are heart disease and cancer.

Once political will exists, change is possible. Mental health reform formed a key element of US president John F Kennedy’s New Frontier, and one of the last pieces of legislation he signed in 1963 was the Community Mental Health Act.

Here are some suggestions for producing change in Ireland: (1) write to all politicians in the area (European, national, local), politely asking what they are doing about mental health services, making clear that you won’t vote for them if they fail to reply; (2) support mental health organisations and advocacy groups (such as the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and Mental Health Reform) in their tireless campaigns for better services; (3) make family, friends and co-workers aware of the issues (if not personally affected, they might not know); (4) reach out to people with mental illness, in solidarity and strength; and (5) support the families of people with enduring mental illness. Our current, atomised, exclusionary societal arrangements make their lives harder than many of us will ever really understand. – Yours, etc,


Professor of Psychiatry,

Trinity College Dublin.