Home > Dail Eireann debate. Mental Health Policy: Motion [Private Members].

[Oireachtas] Dail Eireann debate. Mental Health Policy: Motion [Private Members]. (09 Dec 2020)

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Dail Eireann debate. Mental Health Policy: Motion [Private Members] (9th December 2020)

Deputy Cathal Berry: I move:

“That Dáil Éireann: recognises that:

— positive mental health is fundamental to overall health and well-being;

— mental health is central in building a healthy, inclusive and productive society;

— people’s experience of well-being may vary, with some experiencing vulnerability at some stages in their life;

— the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic should ensure that measures protect not only the population’s physical health, but its mental health also, as an equally important component of health and well-being;

— many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia and anxiety during this pandemic;

[…. Debate continues]

Deputy Pat Buckley: I thank the Regional Independent Group for tabling the motion. I will cut straight to the chase with some headlines published in the media between June and four days ago. The headlines are: "Children with mental health issues forced to wait up to 18 months for help"; "Mental health budget allocation falls by 1% - PNA"; "More than 2,000 children waiting to access mental health services"; "Tele-psychiatry delivery to plug regional staffing gaps"; "Concerns raised over plan to move HSE child mental health staff"; "HSE report details staff shortages in child mental health teams"; "Inpatient psychiatric care for under-18s exposes health system flaws"; "Psychiatric stays for drug disorders on a par with alcohol admissions"; "Almost half of youth mental health service teams have unfilled posts"; and "Fallen through the cracks and there is no help in sight for them". That is a synopsis of media headlines in that period.

I do not have much time, so I will cut straight to the chase. The Minister of State stated that the motion is broadly in line with the proposals of the Government on mental health. In my experience, nothing has happened on this issue. She said the motion is broadly in line with Government proposals, but then she started criticising what the Regional Group has done and many solutions that have been put in place. I have seen what was done by the previous Government and is being done by this Government. It is about time that the Government took mental health seriously. Deputies come into the Chamber again and again to discuss this issue. It is a talking shop. The people affected by this issue are brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles or aunts. This problem knows no colour, class, creed or religion, and it does hurt. I appeal to the Minister of State to take things seriously. I have been a Member of the Dáil for I do not know how many years. We are speaking about real people. Let us start coming up with a real plan because all we get from the Government is excuse after excuse every time.

In 2018, the first legislation I published was the suicide prevention and training Bill. It was a very simple Bill to require all those working in a public body or the public domain to complete a suicide prevention training course, similar to the requirement for some workers to complete the Safe Pass programme. It was about education. It did not even come before the House because it did not get past the Ceann Comhairle. This Government and the previous one have not taken this issue seriously. I again appeal to the Minister of State to please take this issue seriously because, let us be honest, there is a tsunami of suicides coming down the road. I spoke to members of An Garda Síochána who found the body of a young fella last week near here. He died from suicide.

The figures are another problem. The figures we get are two years old. One must wait for two years to get the figures from the Central Statistics Office and even then we do not know whether they are factual. I echo the call of Deputy Ward for the Government to give us the figures. It does not matter that we are members of the Opposition. We are all here together and we are agreeing on mental health issues. The Government should give all Members the figures and the data to allow us to work together and get things right.

[…. Debate continues]

Deputy Michael Collins: Mental health is a huge issue in my constituency and throughout the country. I often say that we concentrated so much on Covid-19 that we took our eye off the ball for people with cancer or mental health stress. Some say there has been a huge increase in suicide. A proper register of people with mental health and death by suicide might show that those deaths might be at about the same level as Covid. Services have almost ground to a halt. People have been trying to get appointments for their young people who are in mental health distress but have been unable to do so, unfortunately. West Cork had a fabulous service in Cara Lodge in Enniskeane, which closed about two months ago.

It is incredible to think that a service like that, which was dealing with young people with stress and mental health issues and which was open for many years, was closed at such a vital time. Young people with issues relating to drugs misuse also availed of the services provided at Cara Lodge. It was stated that the opportunity was being taken to look at a different service. Cara Lodge could certainly have provided by a far different and better service than it was allowed to provide. The excellent staff of Cara Lodge are now fighting for redundancy packages. I have received so many emails from young people who had been there and who had emerged the better for it. Obviously, however, I am talking about a facility in west Cork, an area that does not come on the Government's radar. I mentioned the matter to the Taoiseach - I should have telephoned Boris Johnson because I would have got a better response - but he did nothing and sat idly by…..

[…. Debate continues]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Frankie Feighan): I thank Deputies from across the various parties for moving this very important Private Members' motion on mental health and Covid-19. I echo what my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, said in her opening remarks about this issue being raised during what has been a difficult and distressing period for most people.

As stated at the outset, the Government is not opposing the motion. In fact, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the very important topic of mental health. I assure the House that people’s physical and mental well-being have been priority considerations for the Government at all times during the pandemic. This has been reflected in the policies introduced to safeguard the well-being of the entire population, including targeted initiatives for priority groups.

The Minister of State, Deputy Butler, highlighted many of the initiatives that have been introduced or accelerated as part of the Government’s response to Covid-19. In addition, we have introduced specific, targeted initiatives aimed at dealing with issues affecting vulnerable groups. For example, the programme for Government contains a commitment to retaining specific actions for improved access to addiction services during Covid-19. To this end, €480,000 in once-off funding has been provided to support the restoration of drug and alcohol services during Covid-19.

[…. Debate continues]

Deputy Thomas Pringle: I was very happy to co-sign this motion on mental health and am delighted to speak on it this morning. For me, when we talk about mental health and access to timely and affordable support, we are talking about everyone. Mental health should be like climate action; there should be a cross-party, all-Government committee and it should be taken into consideration for every aspect of policy making. I heard the Minister of State speak of legislation. I hope that does not end up like the climate action legislation, which waters down everything which had been proposed. It concerns me because while we are very good at passing legislation, we are very bad at implementing it. If we only implemented the legislation that exists at present, we could have a process that works very well for everyone.

What better way to address mental health supports than to actually listen to people? A great deal of talk therapy is just having someone to listen, and depending on whether it is cognitive behavioural therapy or other forms, it is about a person having a safe space to talk through their feelings. Someone with €60 or €70 per week spare can access private counselling sessions. If someone cannot pay privately, he or she effectively is finished and will be obliged to wait and wait. Covid means that many will only have access to therapy online but what of those who do not have a computer, smart phone or safe space to talk to their counsellor? Undoubtedly, Covid has had a huge impact on people's mental health but our services were already diabolical before its onset. Although we are saying that we want to get back to that, we should set the bar much higher in terms of seeking to move beyond that.

What of those in emergency accommodation, a cramped hostel or in direct provision? What of those in distress but who also use drugs? Pieta House and other services will not provide emergency support to people who smoke cannabis. The suicide rate for members of the Traveller community is unacceptably high, as activists and advocates told the first meeting of the Joint Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community in September 2019.

[…. Debate continues]

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