How will a new Fine Gael-led government tackle suicide and mental health issues?

Last week protests were held across the country to oppose cuts in spending on mental health services

How will a new Fine Gael-led government tackle suicide and mental health issues?

File photo: Taoiseach Enda Kenny Photo: Brian Lawless / PA Wire/Press Association Images

As with much of the proposed "Programme for Partnership" document which has been published, the 'commitments' surrounding mental health policy are broad and largely aspirational.

There is one interesting symbolic feature, the inclusion of the word "suicide." The five pages dedicated to mental health in the 160-page document contains four references to suicide - that's four more than the Fine Gael manifesto published ahead of February's General Election.

Enda Kenny said before Christmas that failure to make greater progress in the area of mental health was one of his main regrets from his time in power, "I don’t like to have distressing stories in regard to health issues that arise occasionally. I find that difficult, I have to say,” the Mayo TD told reporters. Despite this statement, only 294 words were dedicated to outlining Fine Gael's mental health policies in its manifesto.

Last week hundreds of people attended protests outside the Dáil in Dublin and across the country to call for mental health to be a priority for the next government, this happened days after photos of a sparsely attended debate on mental health policy went viral.

Going Forward...

The partnership document pledges to deal with mental health through supporting "well-being" through policies relating to "housing, employment, education lifestyle" and policies to "combat rural isolation."

It also makes the commitment to increase the budget for mental health annually during the lifetime of the government with no references to any figures or cost analysis.

The Fine Gael-led minority coalition will focus on improving the availability of mental health professionals to GPs who are the first professionals involved in the management of a wide range of mental health problems.

This will focus on improving referral procedures for patients who are deemed to require appointments with mental health professionals and for dealing with crisis responses.

The agreement says it will "extend counselling services in primary care to people on low income," and "offer free counselling and psychological services for families who need it."

In the draft policy document adds, "for those vulnerable to suicidal behaviour, the HSE Mental Helth Directorate should provide a coordinated, uniform, quality assured and safe 24/7 service and deliver pathways of care from primary to secondary mental health services for all those in need of specialist mental health services."

Image: Conor McCabe Photography

An independent review will advise as to how this should be achieved, and these recommendations will be monitored by an Oireachtas Committee.

There is also a vague promise to offer families and communities affected by suicides more standardised, effective  and timely supports.

Culture Change

Education is key to the measures outlined, it says that Ireland's approach to mental health education needs to "promote awareness and prevention... rather than reacting to incidents."

It highlights the introduction of 'Well-being' as a Junior-Cycle subject in 2017 as one "positive step" which will be taken.

A focus is also placed on educating young people on how to manage their mental health, it says a "National Taskforce on Youth Mental Health" will be formed, to "consider how best to introduce and teach, resilience, coping mechanisms, greater awareness to children and young people" and how to make sure that young people are aware of the support services available to them. It also says it will provide mental health courses to teachers.

Anger

Last week's protest took place after reports suggested that €12m of the €35m ring-fenced for the development of mental health services in Budget 2016 was being diverted to other areas of the health service.

The acting Health Minister Leo Varadkar says there was no ministerial decision to divert funds away from mental health services.

"There's an impression that's being created that there was some sort of government decision or some sort of ministerial order - even some people think that it was one by me - to divert money from mental health...that's actually not the case", he told Newstalk Lunchtime.

Live from @ElectionNT