Northern Ireland political stalemate is exacerbating mental health crisis

20 February 2018

Northern Ireland has catastrophic levels of mental ill health. More people have died by suicide in the past 18 years than were killed during 30 years of conflict.

We have failed for two decades to address the mental health legacy of the conflict and now our society is blighted by trauma across generations.

Today Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Karen Bradley will address the House of Commons and outline the steps she is going to take following the collapse of last weeks talks. I am hosting a delegation by leading mental health experts at Westminster to call for action to address the mental health crisis in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland has had no functioning government for 13 months; April marks the 20th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement; and 2018 is the 10th anniversary of the publication of the last major mental health policy in Northern Ireland: the Bamford Review.

The failure to deliver for mental health over the last 13 months, and indeed over the last 20 years since the peace settlement, is unacceptable.

The Mental Health Foundation is standing alongside Northern Ireland mental health charities and professional bodies to call for immediate Government action.

What we’re calling for

1. The appointment of a Mental Health Champion.

2. Investment in mental health support for people of all ages, with a commitment that public spending will deliver a dividend for mental health particularly in health, social care, education, employment, housing and criminal justice.

3. Delivery of a 10-year mental health strategy

4. Funding for a prevalence study on children and young people’s mental health.

Collapse of the Assembly

The collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly has worsened Northern Ireland’s mental health crisis.

The momentum following the May 2016 election of cross-party consensus to appoint a Mental Health Champion has been lost. Promised action on a regional trauma service, increased access to psychological therapies, recovery-focused provision, maternal mental health, and eating disorders has all failed to materialise.

Without a functioning Executive, none of the recommendations of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry can be implemented, including mental health support for people who were abused in children's homes and other residential institutions (1922-1995) and their families.

During the last 13 months we have lost so many opportunities to support people experiencing mental health problems and prevent their occurrence. Therefore, commitments secured need to be robustly monitored by politicians at Westminster.

Whatever form of Government we have in Northern Ireland, mental health must be its top priority including within the budget that the Secretary of State now needs to set.

We cannot achieve a peaceful society in Northern Ireland without peaceful minds. If we invest in mental health support and work together to prevent mental health problems, then mental health will be an asset for our society.

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