That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to place mental health on parity with physical health; to improve provision of mental health services; to increase the quality of care for those in mental health services; and to provide for related matters.
For too long, mental health has been the Cinderella of the health services. Years of neglect, under-investment and lack of political will have led to systemic failures in the mental health system. Experts described the mental health services to the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response as being out of date and not fit for purpose. A mental health parity of esteem with physical health approach will provide a holistic, whole-person response to all those who are in need of care and support, with their physical and mental health needs treated equally. The relationship between physical and mental health is such that poor mental health is linked with a higher risk of physical health problems and poor physical health is linked with poor mental health.
Ensuring access to appropriate treatment for people with mental health needs is a major policy concern. Mental health care has suffered from systemic neglect and a lack of appropriate services. The neglect of people with severe and enduring mental illness has negative outcomes for individuals and their families. The neglect of mental health is across the spectrum at policy, institutional, organisational and individual levels. The Bill aims to offer hope for better mental health care by ensuring that vulnerable persons with mental illness are cared for efficiently and have parity of esteem with those treated for physical health difficulties.
Access to counselling can often be a barrier to people obtaining the appropriate mental health supports. Sinn Féin in government would introduce universal free counselling on GP referral.
Our alternative budget also provides an increase in investment in 24-7 crisis intervention services. If I hurt my head at any hour of the day, I will get the treatment I need. However, if I have an issue going on inside my head, the chances are I will not receive the appropriate treatment. These are only two of the changes we would make in mental health provision. These would go some way to restore the parity of esteem between mental and physical health.
This legislation aims to compel a change in attitudes towards mental health at the highest level of policymaking and governance. If this change in attitude occurs at the highest level, it will filter down to all levels of society and will see the stigma often associated with mental health conditions lessened. We need to break this stigma once and for all.
The effective integration of mental and physical health services is particularly important. This Bill will place a duty on the Minister for Health to promote health parity and ensure all organisations within the health system meet parity obligations in respect of mental health. For example, no additional resources were allocated to mental health supports in the Government's winter plan. No funding has been set out for this, which shows clearly the lack of parity of esteem between mental and physical healthcare in Ireland.
This, however, is a Bill of hope. It will give hope to any person suffering from mental health problems that he or she will be receive the right treatment at the right time. It is easy to lose hope right now. When restrictions were brought in first, many people, including myself, thought that these would be short-term measures and that we would be back to normality soon. The longer the pandemic has gone on, the more messages I have received of pain and desperation from people who see no end to this. I cannot tell people when this will end but I can tell them that it will end and we will come out the other side.
People need hope right now. People need assurances that the increase in mental health issues arising from Covid will be treated in a respectful and appropriate manner. In the meantime, the most important thing we can do is be kind to each other, and to respect each other. It is perfectly okay not to be okay right now. It is normal to feel anxious, frightened, frustrated or worried about things that one has no control of. Be kind and reach out, if you are not feeling okay. You are not alone.