Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Covid-19, Mental Health and Older People: Statements


11:00 am

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

I thank the Ministers of State, Deputies Butler and Feighan, for all of their efforts in respect of mental health. I do not in any way doubt their commitment but, as with all of their predecessors, they are starved of the adequate resources and structures to do what I know they need to do and could achieve in the battle against our nation's silent crisis.

In the coming weeks, I will publish the results of research I undertook with my team. We surveyed various healthcare professionals, including general practitioners, psychotherapists, gardaí, coroners, student unions, charities involved in the sector and so on. I will give some of the headlines of that research: 91% agreed that Covid has had a detrimental impact on the mental health and well-being of Irish society; 86% believe that the pandemic will have along-term impact on mental health, 88% feel that the Government has not done enough on the mental health side during the pandemic - this is not the fault of the Minister of State, who, as I said, is starved of the resources she requires; 91% agree that mental health services will require more funding and, among gardaí specifically, 100% of respondents reported an increase in calls relating to mental health issues and domestic violence and 80% reported an increase in calls relating to suicide. The average for all of these increases was around 30%. Particular criticisms in terms of additional comments included woefully underfunded mental health service nationwide, a lack of long-term consideration of the Covid-19 mental health impact in Government policy to date - a point I have made to the Minister for Health many times - lip service being paid to mental health workers and charities with little in the way of actual Government support. Another point raised, which we can perhaps discuss another day, was the relentless media coverage of bad news stories. I am not shooting the messengers, I am focusing on how we portray the facts.

This research is consistent with findings from other research. In 2020, Burke et alfound that Covid-19 lockdowns are associated with marked increases in depression, anxiety and stress across all demographics. Maynooth and Trinity universities found that one in four Irish people are current experiencing clinically, meaningful levels of depression, with close to one in five experiencing anxiety or PTSD-related issues. In the 1980s, 16% of the overall health budget was devoted to the mental health services. This year, unfortunately, the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, is expected to put up with 5.2%. I do not doubt her commitment to the task at hand, but, unfortunately, as with so many consecutive Governments, the Departments of Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and Health and their senior Ministers are starving her of the resources she requires to really tackle the issue of mental health nationally.


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