Mental health must become the ‘national priority’ as Ireland moves into the next phase of the pandemic, according to a coalition of more than 50 community and voluntary sector leaders.
In a letter to Taoiseach Micheál Martin on Monday, published by Mental Health Reform, industry leaders urge the government to invest an additional € 85 million in mental health services to deal with the emerging “phantom pandemic”.
Signatories to the letter included the CEOs of Jigsaw, Pieta House, Alone, St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Alcohol Action Ireland, Samaritans Ireland, the Irish Council for Psychotherapy and the Psychological Society of Ireland.
The coalition calls for a “clear and comprehensive” response from the government, complemented by a “radical change” in funding levels. The ‘historic underinvestment’ in mental health services in Ireland must be addressed in the 2022 budget.
Over the past 18 months, the government has focused “rightly on tackling the direct impact” of Covid-19, but now is the time to prioritize mental health, the group says. Many people struggled to access the basic supports needed to stay healthy even before the pandemic, but Covid-19 has harmed the physical and mental well-being of many more, the letter continues.
“Thousands more people have come forward to access funding for mental health services during this difficult time. There has been a disproportionate impact on marginalized groups who face significant challenges in accessing mental health care.
“Now more than ever, we need a purposeful, culturally inclusive and responsive mental health system in which people can access the care they need when they need it,” the letter continued.
Additional funding of at least 85 million euros is needed, recommends the group. Of this amount, € 65 million would be used to develop new mental health services, while € 20 million would go to existing services. In the last budget, 38 million euros were earmarked for new mental health measures, while the overall mental health budget exceeded 1 billion euros.
Of the total healthcare budget, 5.1% went to mental health services in 2021, compared to almost 13% in the UK, according to Mental Health Reform. According to the coalition, this percentage is expected to reach 10% by 2024, which is the level recommended by Sláintecare.
The health ministry should prioritize recruiting primary care psychologists and assistants to reduce waiting lists and divert referrals from specialist services, recommends the coalition. An investment of 2 million euros should be devoted to national services for the defense of children and adults with mental health problems in the community, hospitals, prisons and residences.
Mental health services for children and adolescents to be expanded to improve crisis interventions outside of working hours, at a cost of 6.5 million euros, while an investment of 7.8 million euros is required to meet specific mental health needs as part of the Health Service Executive’s National Clinical Programs. The group is also calling for € 5.5 million to be spent on services providing mental health support to people in the prison system.