Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
I am going to change tack slightly, but I will still bring my contribution back to the European Council meeting. During that meeting, there were discussions about societal well-being. That is an aspect of this pandemic that we do not talk about enough in the House. There is a mental health epidemic across continental Europe and in Ireland. That epidemic needs to be addressed and resources and funding must be provided in order that we can find solutions and address people's deteriorating mental health. The latter is becoming a major issue throughout the country. As Deputies, we can attest to this on foot of the nature of the calls that we get to our constituency offices. People are at their wits' end. They are despairing and incredibly frustrated.
A good measure of how people's mental health has deteriorated comes in the form of evidence I was given when I went to my local butcher a couple of weeks ago. A butcher's shop is the type of place where one would have this type of conversation. The butcher said to me that he had noted from February on, for the first time in the pandemic, that while one in ten people might be in a bad mood or might not be in the best form normally, it has been happening more and more. Almost everybody coming in to the shop and having a daily discussion was just despairing and had essentially given up. We are seeing that across the country. As a Government and a society, we need to intervene and ensure that the long-term impacts of this pandemic are minimised as much as possible.
It is not just my local butcher who has given me this evidence. Statistics show that there has been a 150% increase in the number of people seeking access to mental health services and that there was a 36% increase of people seeking support from the Samaritans in 2020. The evidence in there. We need to analyse that evidence and make sure that we use the statistics to which I refer to support the argument for significantly increasing funding for mental health, particularly as people are struggling. There is no doubt that people are struggling and we, as a Government, need to intervene. There has been an increase in the budget for mental health services but because of the impact of the pandemic and lockdowns and of people not being able to see family members or friends, travel or work and having reduced incomes, there has been a significant impact. I extend that to the recent announcement about the lifting of restrictions. The fact that those under 18, after 26 April, will be able to participate in training for sport so long as there are fewer than 15 and it is socially distanced and monitored, is welcome. It is tough when a 17-year-old person and someone who is 18/-and-a-half years old are friends and in the same class and the latter has to look at his or her friend going to sports training, whether it is for camogie, football, rugby or badminton. It will be difficult for that person to accept. There has to be room for flexibility in this regard because there is a level of unfairness that is hard to accept.
On the vaccine supplies from Europe, Ireland has had some of the strictest restrictions and they has worked. We have kept the case numbers and the mortality rate among the lowest in Europe. We need to be rewarded for that with increased vaccine supply.