I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
For too long mental health has been the Cinderella of the health service. Years of neglect, underinvestment and lack of political will have led to systemic failures in the mental health service. This is a Bill of hope. It is a vital legislative measure that will elevate the plight of people seeking mental health supports to the forefront. The legislation aims to compel a change in attitude towards mental health at the highest level of policy making and governance. A recent incident that caused concern among mental health advocates was when the Government launched its winter plan for health and there was no mention of mental health in the plan. If this Bill is passed, it will be incumbent on the Minister for Health to include a mental health plan in next year's winter plan. If this change of attitude occurs at the highest level, it will filter down into all levels of society and will see the stigma often associated with mental health conditions lessened. We must start to break the stigma once and for all.
The effective integration of mental health services and physical health services is particularly important. A parity of esteem approach to mental health and physical health will provide a holistic, whole-person response to everyone in need of care and support, with his or her physical and mental health needs treated equally. Mental healthcare has suffered from systemic neglect and a lack of appropriate resources over the years. Neglect of people with severe and enduring mental illness has negative outcomes for the individuals concerned, their families and society. This neglect of mental health occurs across the spectrum at policy, institutional, organisational and individual levels. The Bill will place a duty on the Minister for Health to promote health parity and to ensure all organisations in the health system meet parity obligations in respect of mental health.
As I have said numerous times, if one has an accident and cuts one's head, one will receive the appropriate treatment and aftercare when and where one needs it, but if one has a problem inside one's head, one may not receive the necessary treatment. This Bill aims to redress that imbalance. Mental health problems do not simply materialise Monday to Friday or between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and then magically disappear outside those hours. There must be access to a comprehensive, 24-7 mental health service which examines the holistic needs of the person. We heard experts at the Special Committee on Covid-19 Response describe the mental health services as out of date and not fit for purpose, with many services inundated with cries for help.
We need a mental health strategy for young people to provide earlier intervention and support and to reduce the number of adults presenting with mental health challenges later in life. Prevention is better than cure. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, children were waiting up to two years to get an appointment with the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. This is simply not good enough. It is expected that these waiting lists will increase post Covid. When the restrictions were first introduced many people, myself included, thought they would be short-term measures and that we would be back to some form of normality quickly. This has caused people extra worry and anxiety. They are missing family, friends and the like. As a result, people who would not normally have mental health issues have perhaps experienced them for the first time. At present, we are not delivering a comprehensive or adequate mental health service and if there is a big increase in demand during and after the pandemic, I do not know how the system will cope.
I have engaged with numerous stakeholders that have endorsed this Bill, including the Mental Health Commission, Mental Health Reform, Shine and others. I call on all parties and none to support this Bill, particularly Fianna Fáil which has advocated in the past for mental health parity. I hope it will support the Bill today. One of the recommendations in Sharing the Vision states that funding should reflect parity of esteem for mental health compared to other health conditions. The Mental Health Parity of Esteem Bill aims to offer hope for better mental healthcare by ensuring that vulnerable persons with mental illness are cared for efficiently, when needed and on a par with physical healthcare. I ask that the Bill be passed to Committee Stage when it can be teased out and examined further. It must be allowed to progress.
As I said, this is a Bill of hope. It will give hope to any person suffering from mental health problems that he or she will receive the right treatment at the right time. It is very easy to lose hope now, and people need it. They need an assurance that the increase in mental health issues arising from Covid-19 will be treated in a respectful and appropriate manner. In the meantime, the most important thing we can do is be kind to, and 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 over which one does not have control. People should be kind and reach out if they are not feeling okay. If this Bill is passed today, it will send a clear message to everyone who is or has been affected by mental health, either personally or through family and friends, that we have listened to them, that they are not alone and not only have we listened, but we have acted and put in place the start of a process that will make their quality of life better.
That is the very least they deserve.