#RealityCheck: Why are the main parties not taking mental health seriously?

Odran Flynn takes a look at the manifestos, the party promises and the reality of the issue

The importance attached to the issue of mental health by the four main political parties can best be illustrated by the amount of space devoted to the issue in the party manifestos.

Fine Gael has 294 words, Fianna Fail 273 words, Labour Party 153 words and Sinn Fein just 87 words. Between them, the so called 'Big Four' can only manage a total of 807 words.

Yet the four manifestos run to a total of 459 pages between them and their mental health coverage amounts to the equivalent of just two pages, less than half of 1% of their manifestos.

How big is the problem? Well, last year alone there were 17,800 admissions to psychiatric units and hospitals which average almost 50 admissions per day. Two thirds of those were re-admissions, which suggests that the current policy is not a roaring success.

At any one time, there were around 2,200 patients receiving residential psychiatric care in Irish hospitals last year yet only Fianna Fail has, with €187.5 million, actually committed specific additional funds to mental health.

The rest are making promises to improve the current situation, but clearly didn’t believe that it was important enough to go to the trouble of actually working out a costing.

The numbers who end up in psychiatric units and hospitals are only the tip of the iceberg. According to the CSO 2011 census, some 96,000 people had what are classified as a psychological and emotional condition.  These 96,000 account for 16% of the almost 600,000 people in the State who have a disability.  

Six out of ten people with a psychological or emotional condition indicated that they also suffered another disability, with the most common being a difficulty with learning, remembering or concentrating which was indicated by 37,210 people (38.8% of total).

Half (50.1%) of those with a psychological or emotional condition experienced difficulties with working or attending school or college which affected 48,073 persons. There was also a high level of difficulty with participating in other activities, experienced by 40,256 persons (41.9%).

Of the 27,000 people with this condition in the labour force, 41.4% were unemployed in 2011, which was almost three times the then national average.  

Of the entire 96,000, 42% have difficulty participating in other activities, 37% have difficulty going outside their home alone while almost 26% experience difficulty dressing, bathing or getting around at home.

There can be little doubt that should any other sector of our society be afflicted with the same problems then the issue would get a lot more prominence.

The manifestos are full of aspirations, generalisations about extending various services and additional counselling.

It is well established that the greatly increased incidence of suicide, particularly among younger people, is related to mental health issues.

Given this situation, it is beyond belief that in the four manifestos the word suicide only appears a total of five times; three of those in the Sinn Fein manifesto, and twice in the Fianna Fail document. The word does not appear at all in either of the government parties' manifestos.

We are not suggesting that the main political parties do not care about mental health, but if they are to be judged on the basis of their commitment to the issue as articulated in their respective manifestos, then we could be forgiven for thinking otherwise.