A few weeks ago, the Workers Party made a formal submission to the Northern Ireland Executive’s ‘Mental Health Strategy 2021-31’.
One of the key points which we kept re-iterating was that previous mental health strategies had failed, and failed again.
They failed to confront many of the core causes, failed to address the provision of services and failed to meet the needs of patients and clients.
Anti-depressant prescription rates in Northern Ireland are significantly higher than the rest of the UK. The number of antidepressants issued here has risen by 25% in five years. In the past year alone, more than 3 million prescriptions were handed out – 8,500 a day on average.
There is also a worrying increase in the number of anti-depressants being prescribed in the Republic of Ireland.
In part, this is accounted for by the increasing levels of mental ill health but also is a consequence of a lack of alternative treatments, particularly counselling services, talking therapies and early intervention.
Volumes of research have been produced linking poverty, poor housing, employment environmental and other social issues to poor and deteriorating mental health.
Yet mental health is still considered, almost exclusively, as a medical condition. Only when some of the major causes of mental ill health are factored in to a joined-up response strategy will we even begin to make progress.
Additional to the above factors we are also living with a legacy of mental health issues going back decades. This is now cross generational and cannot and should not be treated with medication alone. The impact of the pandemic on mental health is only just beginning to emerge.
The funding of mental health services in Northern Ireland is currently 27% lower than all other areas of the UK. No mental health strategy can ignore that fact. Funding must be made available; it must be ring fenced and it must be directed at the causes as well as the treatments for mental health. If it is not, we will be back in ten years time discussing another failed strategy and another generation will have been condemned to unnecessary suffering, exclusion and worse.