Thursday, 3 June 2021
Mental Health During and Post Covid-19: Statements
Pádraig O'Sullivan (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
I am sharing time with Deputy O'Donnell. I echo the sentiments of Deputy O'Connor that there is nobody better placed than the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, to take up the challenge in regard to mental health. She has a great track record on these issues and I hope, in the years to come, she can put her stamp on the Department. As she said in her opening statement, we are not yet fully aware of the true extent of the impacts of the Covid crisis on our mental health as a society. Different people have been affected in different ways and people have different resilience thresholds. The true impacts might not be felt for years to come. Nevertheless, we all recognise the glaring difficulties Covid has put before us. There is a whole host of challenges that need to be met.
In a recent Amárach Research poll, 80% of the youth workers polled confirmed that the pandemic is having profound long-term effects on the mental health of young people. For second level students who are doing the leaving certificate and other examinations, for example, the added stress of the pandemic is clearly demonstrable and a cause for concern. The same is true for third level students, who have also faced many challenges. They have not had a conventional third level experience and that needs to be considered when we are devising appropriate responses for that sector.
As a member of the Oireachtas education committee, I am aware of the issue of bullying, including cyberbullying, to which a number of speakers referred. The Ombudsman for Children and other representative bodies called recently for the presence of psychotherapists in schools. It is not necessarily the case that a psychotherapist would need to be assigned full-time to every school. We could have a system where, in the different regions, a number of professionals would be identified to go into a number of schools and meet the most vulnerable and at-risk students and seek to address their needs. This is something on which the Government really needs to focus.
Deputy O'Connor mentioned the technology giants, including social media companies, and the role they can play in addressing cyberbullying. Many multinational companies in this country are very good at this type of engagement in the various industries in which they operate. They play a large role in terms of corporate responsibility and giving back to the communities in which they are located. The Government should look to engage with Facebook, Twitter and other companies in regard to their corporate responsibilities. Cyberbullying is increasing at a dramatic rate and everybody in this Chamber has suffered abuse on social media at one time or another. That type of bullying is very prevalent among younger people. Speaking on a personal level and in a local context, I have seen the ill effects of cyberbullying on younger people in a school setting. Unfortunately, in some cases, it can have the gravest of consequences by contributing to people self-harming and taking their own lives. We need to put a challenge down to the social media companies and other technology giants that they have a corporate responsibility role to play in this regard.
My final point concerns the mental health of older people, which is part of the Minister of State's brief. I want to raise a specific issue on which she may be able to work with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Throughout the country, there are elderly people living in large houses who may not want to go into any type of service, but want to downsize and live in a community with other older people. A number of people in my constituency are currently involved in a couple of planning applications to provide that type of accommodation. However, they are facing difficulty because of An Bord Pleanála's density thresholds. An Bord Pleanála is suggesting they need to comply with the same density requirements that apply for regular housing units. That baffles me. We are talking about purpose-built retirement settings and the people involved should not be held to the same standard as house builders and developers. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would take that issue into consideration.