Home > Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate – Mental health services. [alcohol]

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Topical issue debate – Mental health services. [alcohol]. (16 May 2012)

External website: https://www.oireachtas.ie/en/debates/debate/dail/2...

Deputy Charlie McConalogue: I raise this issue on the back of a report published today by Headstrong in association with academic staff in UCD. This was a survey of 14,000 teenagers and young adults which found 38% of participants had problematic or harmful drinking behaviour, with a further 7% having signs of alcohol dependence. According to Dr. Barbara Dooley, a lecturer at the UCD school of psychology, for young people there is a link between excessive drinking and mental health. The survey indicated that by sixth year in secondary school, almost half of students experience problem or hazardous drinking or possible dependence, with up to 7% showing some reliance on alcohol. This is an epidemic which has been growing in the country in recent years. The results of this survey have been suspected, which is that alcohol abuse and mistreatment by younger people is related to mental health issues. Those who abuse alcohol show a much higher incidence of depression and mental health issues. 

What will the Government do to try to address this growing problem? In my own locality on one night last October, 26 students were checked into the accident and emergency department in Letterkenny General Hospital because of alcohol poisoning. That came as a result of a 99 cent drinks promotion. It is the extreme end of something that is a much wider and growing problem with our young people.
Unfortunately, our country has traditionally been very much associated with alcohol and we often see this played out when foreign leaders come here. Some of our larger and more successful companies are involved in the drinks industry.
This issue is affecting our young people and showing that as they progress in life, there will be an impact on mental health and the ability to be successful and lead productive lives. We should see some action on this from the Government so what is the Minister of State’s response to this very timely report? What will happen to address this problem in the coming years?
Minister of State at the Department of Health (Róisín Shortall): I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue that poses challenges for us a country. I hope we will all agree on tackling this issue in a meaningful way in the coming months.
The finding to which the Deputy refers comes from a joint Headstrong/UCD survey entitled “My World”, which interviewed more than 14,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 25, the objective of which was to deepen what we know about young people’s mental health so that we can be more sensitive to their real needs. The number one health issue for young people is their mental health and good mental health in adolescence is a requirement for their optimal psychological development. In that regard, I am encouraged to see from the survey that the majority of young people interviewed were found to be functioning well across a variety of mental health indicators. I fully accept, however, the points the Deputy made about other critical findings in the survey.
We must be as proactive as we possibly can in developing and promoting better services to support young people’s mental health. It is clear from the survey that the period between the ages of 15 and 25 is critical in their development, and if we can identify issues as they emerge, research tells us that early and brief intervention prevents people from experiencing lifetimes of pain and lost opportunities. Additional funding of €35 million was provided in the budget for mental health services, a significant portion of which will be used to strengthen and complete the professional profile of community mental health teams, including child and adolescent teams. We must make renewed efforts to encourage young people to seek help when they are in difficulty. It is clear that those who share their problems enjoy better mental health so we need to reach out to those around us who may be in distress, to engage with them and to encourage them to seek help.
Having regard to the specific issue of harmful drinking behaviour in teenagers and young adults, the report of the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group launched last February is the roadmap for the future direction of policy in Ireland to deal with the use and misuse of alcohol. The steering group reported that Irish children are drinking from a younger age and drinking more than ever before. It added that more than half of Irish 16 year old children have been drunk and one in five is a weekly drinker. Furthermore, it declared that alcohol marketing leads to young people commencing drinking at a younger age and drinking more. In this respect, it found that Irish 16 to 21 year olds list alcohol advertisements as five of their top ten favourite advertisements.
We as a society can no longer tolerate the level of alcohol abuse in this country, particularly among young people. There is no room for ambivalence in our approach. My Department is now working on developing an action plan on alcohol, based on the recommendations in the substance misuse strategy report. I expect its recommendations will enjoy cross-party support when we move to implement them in the coming months.
Deputy Charlie McConalogue: Will the Minister of State clarify if the Government intends to ban alcohol advertising in sports events? It was mentioned as a key part of the substance misuse strategy but will it be banned?
Alcohol abuse has become a cancer in our society in recent years. It was always a problem but it has grown. We are seeing it show up in our young people now, and from a younger age. It is essential from the point of view of looking after our citizens that we address this and take every possible measure. It also makes sense from a financial point of view. The data on the impact of alcohol show it is responsible for 2,000 hospital beds being occupied every night. Alcohol-related illness cost the health care system €1.2 billion in 2007. In the same year, alcohol-related crime cost €1.19 billion. That demonstrates the financial merit of investing in this.
Today’s report showing the impact of alcohol abuse on the mental health of young people emphasises that we must address this. There is now a report before Government. We need to see action to tackle this growing problem that will lead to a more sensitive approach across Irish society, particularly among younger people. Is the Government committed to banning advertising of alcohol in conjunction with sports events? We should promote sports as an alternative to those who are drinking too much but instead it is intrinsically associated with sporting events. What other commitments will the Government make, apart from developing a plan?
Deputy Róisín Shortall: There is no doubting we have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol in this country. There is a cultural problem with alcohol and we must address this matter in a comprehensive way. That is why the strategy was drawn up and we are now working on implementing different aspects of that strategy. It is my intention to bring a memo to Government before the summer to provide for a number of measures. I am meeting separate Ministers and Departments on this. We are keen to introduce minimum pricing and are watching carefully what has been happening in Scotland in this regard. We also know that when it comes to young people, sports advertising and sponsorship by alcohol companies is effective. That is why so much money is put into it. I am committed to phasing out that over a reasonable period of time. There are contractual arrangements in place at present and I am working with the different national sporting bodies to agree a proposal to phase out that over a period of time. We must tackle this on a number of fronts and as I have already said, I look forward to support from all sides of the House on the measures I will be announcing shortly.


Topical Issue Debate – Mental Health Services
Vol . 765 No. 2
Wednesday, 16 May 2012

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