The mental health service is a vital part of our society, a point with which nobody in the Chamber would disagree. Families and communities throughout the country have been visited by heartbreak and tragedy because of mental health issues and County Meath is no different in that respect. Before Christmas we witnessed tragedy when seven men died by suicide within ten days, leaving communities in Kildalkey, Athboy, Trim, Kells and Duleek in shock and grief over the period. As a society we need to start asking ourselves really serious questions about what is happening.
In many cases mental health issues are very difficult to resolve and it is not necessarily in our gift within the Chamber to do so. Nevertheless, some issues can be tackled by us. As a State, we need to ensure we tackle the socio-economic reasons which lead to some people suffering from mental health issues and believing suicide is the only answer. We can affect the way the health service treats and supports people suffering from mental health problems. Every county has a reason to complain, but County Meath is at the bottom of the ladder when it comes to the provision of resources.
I discovered recently that before Christmas there were 32 staff vacancies in the mental health service in counties Louth and Meath. The chief officer of the community healthcare organisation, CHO, for counties Louth and Meath confirmed to me that the 32 vacancies were in a range of grades, including that of psychiatric nurse. It is an inordinately high number and extremely worrying that there is such a gap in the provision of key medical professionals in such an area of crisis. Last summer we found out that the child and adolescent mental health teams in counties Louth and Meath had just over half the staff they needed to fulfil their duties. In the midlands and counties Louth and Meath there are over 50 children waiting for over a year for their first appointment. The Minister of State must understand mental health matters are urgent and that those involved require support and treatment fast to ensure things will not deteriorate. This figure is the second highest in the State and has grown significantly in the past three years. This is not something the Government has inherited but rather a problem that has been created by its lack of ability, inaction and funding.
This is unacceptable and County Meath is an outlier of how bad things are in the country. Ireland is an outlier when it comes to how bad things are with respect to teenage suicides in the European Union. Ireland has the fourth highest rate. In September the HSE confirmed to me that the spend on mental health services in counties Louth and Meath was the second lowest per capita in the State, at €121.67. It is not hard to join the dots - when we invest so little and employ so few staff in an area, there will be high rates of suicide because of mental health problems. Every community has been affected by teenage suicide, but it is clear that the Government is either not equipped, unable or not sufficiently motivated to tackle the problem. Again, County Meath is at the bottom of the resources list. We need to ensure radical investment of resources and energy by the Government in order that it can start to tackle this problem in counties such as Meath.