Dáil debates

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Mental Health During and Post Covid-19: Statements


1:35 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)

Last night the Government rushed through legislation that will impinge on people's civil liberties. I was waiting to speak on amendments I put down that would repeal Part 5 of the Mental Health Act 2001, which allows mental health tribunals to be reduced to one-member, paper-based tribunals. This legislation was introduced to reduce the amount of personal interaction between relevant persons in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Since this legislation was introduced there have been 755 mental health tribunals and not one of these tribunals has had to use the emergency powers. There was no need to extend these emergency powers and all the evidence suggests that they are not being used at all.

At the recent Joint Committee on Health meeting, Mental Health Reform stated that the legislation is an infringement of service users' rights. The Government should be focusing on substantially increasing investment in our mental health services and supports to address the challenges of the pandemic and its aftermath. Last night's debate was one of the most undemocratic processes I have ever been involved in. The debate was guillotined, which took away the opportunity for me to ask the questions I had. For example, what input did the Minister of State's Department have in this decision and why does she think that extending these extraordinary powers was warranted?

We also had an informative meeting of the Sub-Committee on Mental Health this week where we met representatives of the LGBTI+ community. This is Pride month and I want to send a message of support and solidarity to all members of the LGBTI+ community. We received a comprehensive report that stated that 93% of LGBTI+ young people were struggling with anxiety, stress or depression during Covid-19. This was in comparison with 53% of the general population. These findings are really stark and we need to put in place measures that will positively impact on their mental health and physical well-being. I ask that the Minister of State read the report and implement the appropriate measures outlined.

The Minister of State mentioned in her statement that current legislation around the age of consent in accessing or refusing mental health treatment represent barriers to all our young people. However, there is a specific barrier in which only those aged 18 and over can consent or refuse treatment. This poses a significant barrier to LGBTI community again. I acknowledge the Minister of State's commitment to amending the Mental Health Act 2001. On mental health, this creates circumstances for LGBTI young people wherein their access to mental health services is dependent on their willingness to share their needs with their parents or guardians. As research has demonstrated, many LGBTI+ young people are not supported in their home environments because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This can become a barrier to them obtaining the proper supports.

What really concerned me is that young people in the LGBTI community are still being subjected to conversion therapy as they do not have the legislative right to refuse this draconian practice. Deputy Mythen and I have introduced legislation to the Bills Office. The Mental Health (Amendment) Act 2018 might supersede this but our Bill will enable 16 and 17-year-olds to both consent to and access mental health treatment on parity with physical healthcare. This so called conversion therapy has no place in our society. It is harmful and destructive and has been condemned and discredited worldwide by institutions such as the UN Committee Against Torture, the European Parliament and the Irish Council for Psychotherapy. It is plain and simply wrong. My colleague, Senator Warfield, introduced the Prohibition of Conversion Therapies Bill in 2018. I call on the Government to act on this legislation to ensure it becomes a reality and to protect LGBTI people of all ages from this harmful practice. There can be no more delays.

The Sinn Féin motion that was unanimously passed in this House recently called for an increase in investment in talk therapies. We called for the removal of the medical card barrier and for additional resources to be supplied to our community-based services to provide this treatment. I have read the Minister of State's 76-page Model of Care Adults Accessing Talk Therapies report and I have to say it is not worth the paper it is written on. It is more a staff induction handout pack than a comprehensive report into appropriate access to talk therapies. The latest figures I have state that there are still over 10,000 people waiting on a primary care psychology appointment. The vast majority of these are children. We all know that early intervention is key to people progressing and to stop them from regressing in their mental health. Of the 10,000 people waiting on primary care psychology appointments, 5,500 are waiting over a year for an appointment. This is just not good enough. Can the Minister of State imagine the regression in people’s mental health that can happen in a year? Can the Minister of State imagine the impact this can have on a family over a year? At the launch of the document in April the Minister of State said the therapies would be accessible and would ensure that everyone gets the right supports in a timely manner. Over a year is not a timely manner. We do not need another box ticking exercise. We need to have the appropriate service in the right place.

Covid-19 has shone a light on the frailties of the mental health services and we have heard that the shortfalls in access to appropriate services have impacted all members of society. We were in a mental health emergency before Covid and we are now in a mental health crisis. I acknowledge that the Minister of State inherited problems but she is coming up to a year in office and people are not seeing any significant progress in how mental health supports are provided. I urge the Minister of State to introduce the three Rs: resource; rebuild; and reform our mental health services. The Minister of State has a unique opportunity to be able to do this. She can do the following: allocate substantial investment in our mental health services and supports; create a dedicated lead for mental health within the HSE who reports directly to the CEO; and increase staffing in the HSE adult community mental health teams and in CAMHS to address the unacceptable waiting lists.

There is another thing I would like the Minister of State to do. She can also mental health-proof decisions made at the Cabinet table. Every decision that is made has an impact on people's mental health. If the Government can address the challenges of inadequate income, employment and housing then this would have the biggest impact on positive mental health and quality of life.


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