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Mental health and the economic collapse

The senate debated the effects of the economic collapse on mental health (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 10th November 2010, 587-610).  The Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, John Moloney, spoke of the recently launched See change national mental health stigma reduction partnership, to reduce stigma and challenge the discrimination associated with mental health problems.  Two years ago he had decided that the most important thing for his department to do was to travel throughout the country and try to deal with the issue of stigma and encourage as many groups as possible to get involved.  So far, he had visited ten county towns and his intention was to travel to all the county towns before the end of March.  He also spoke approvingly of the work of Head Strong and Jigaw.

Frances Fitzgerald (FG, labour) welcomed See change, whose meetings had attracted good numbers, but all these positive developments could be set back by funding cutbacks.  It was disgraceful that mental health services had been at the margins for so long and there was a campaign of interested groups which had sent more than seven thousand e-mails to members of the Oireachtas and others interested.  Since 2006, mental health spending had been reduced by 9.2% and was down to 5.3% of the health budget.  Over half of all HSE staff cuts had applied to mental health.  The Inspector of Mental Health Services continued to say that some facilities were unacceptable and inhumane.  There were still a thousand people living in Victorian institutions and more than 200 children admitted to adult psychiatric units last year.  The Irish Medical Organization in its pre-budget submission pointed out that 25% of people receiving illness benefit cited mental health issues.

Geraldine Feeney (FF, labour) drew attention to the article by Sara Burke in the Irish Times who wrote of how cuts could be made in health services and still give us more for less.  It was not often that we heard or talked about such ideas and the article was well thought out and full of foresight.  Phil Prendergast (Lab, labour) drew attention to Amnesty International’s plea for the Mental health Act, 2001 to be reviewed and for new legislation to be introduced.

Concluding the debate for the government, the minister of state spoke of the disappointment that only 5.5% of the health budget went to mental health – ‘of course we all want to see an increase in mental health funding’.  Although we were talking about funding from a decreasing pot, we did have the ability to provide funding through the sale of properties – there were some substantial resources invested in mental health and these could be moved from the old institutions to the community.
> Progress on Vision for Change: Dail Eireann, Debates, 18th November 2010, 640-1.