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Home > Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed).

[Oireachtas] Public Health (Alcohol) Bill 2015 [Seanad]: Second Stage (Resumed). (06 Mar 2018)


Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
Deputy James Browne: As Fianna Fáil spokesman on mental health, I am strongly in support of this Bill because of the significance that it will have for mental health issues in Ireland. Alcohol is known as a depressant and has been proven to be a contributing factor in half of all suicides in Ireland. With national consumption levels of alcohol continuing to rise it has become increasingly imperative that we confront and combat this public health problem in our country. By introducing a minimum price for alcohol and restricting marketing, especially those advertisements aimed at youth, we can finally take steps to curb alcohol abuse and excessive consumption. The price of alcohol is directly linked to consumption levels and alcohol-related harms, so as these prices increase we can hope to see improvements in the cases of poor mental health of some people.

These mental health issues most noticeably affect our youth. Alcohol changes serotonin levels and neurotransmitters in the human brain and these changes are intensified in young people whose brains are still developing. Because of this effect, young people suffer more negative mental health consequences than adults do when consuming alcohol. A recent national study of youth mental health detailed an evident correlation between excessive drinking and poor mental health, low self-esteem and suicidal behaviour. This phenomenon is exacerbated by the binge drinking culture that is both perpetuated and enabled through alcohol advertising, low alcohol prices and accessibility.

Stemming also from the links between drinking and mental health problems is a lack of an organised infrastructure to deal with cases of dual diagnosis. Research has uncovered that many people suffer jointly from both substance abuse and mental health issues. In these cases, alcohol is often used as a form of self-medication for those suffering from severe mental illness. The World Health Organization has estimated that the risk of suicide increases eightfold when a person is under the influence of alcohol. Just recently, a University College Cork study of 121 suicides reported that 80% of the people had been under the influence of alcohol at the time of death.

Currently, there are no hybrid substance rehabilitation or mental health facilities in Ireland equipped to treat substance abuse and mental health diagnoses simultaneously, which ultimately leads to an ineffective treatment plan, repeated relapse and, in some cases, death.

With this in mind, there are reports of hospitals turning away patients under the influence of drugs or alcohol who are presenting with symptoms of mental illness and suicidal behaviour. Last year, for example, it was reported that a young girl was denied admittance to a hospital after an attempted suicide due to the fact that she was intoxicated. This case points to the shortcomings in the health care system in dealing with mental health issues in the context of substance abuse. Another reported case of failed dual diagnosis treatment is a mother of four who suffered from both post-natal depression and alcoholism. After being treated for years for her alcohol issues with no success she was finally psychiatrically assessed following a suicide attempt. She was eventually diagnosed with post-natal depression, which led her to the help she needed through antidepressant medication.

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