Thursday, 3 June 2021
Mental Health During and Post Covid-19: Statements
Martin Browne (Tipperary, Sinn Fein)
I am sharing time with Deputy Martin Kenny. When Covid struck, the country went into firefighting mode because we were battling a threat about which very little was known. Decisions were made and restrictions imposed that have affected every man, woman and child, with impacts on emotional, mental and physical health. While it is understandable that very difficult choices had to be made, it is regrettable that so few measures to address the impacts of the restrictions were put in place. With a reduction in services, existing gaps in the system were made even wider and many people found themselves falling through them. Now that society is in a position to reopen gradually, the job ahead of us is to look at the impacts the restrictions have had on people and how to address them.
Throughout the crisis, Sinn Féin has warned that measures needed to be put in place to deal with the impacts of the restrictions on people's physical and emotional well-being. In many instances, the Government failed to do this.
In the months since the restrictions began, I have regularly brought to the attention of the Dáil, the HSE and Government Departments issues of particular concern that members of the public have contacted me about. Children and adults with special and complex needs were particularly affected. Many of their routines were broken and social outlets were cut off for many. This caused regression in some people and distress for their families but the response was slow and inadequate. We had to fight for the introduction of the summer provision last year, yet when it was finally introduced it did not get to everybody. For many, the challenges they were already facing have become even more challenging and much work is going to have to be done to address the regression that has taken place.
Only recently I raised one particular situation in which a young man with special needs from County Tipperary found himself suffering because he could not access the day centres that were so important to him. He was also affected by the cancellation of local sporting activities which were a very important outlet for him. His mental and emotional welfare suffered considerably but the reduction in services, coupled with already long waiting lists, have meant that over four months after his family started seeking a psychology assessment he is still waiting. Despite attempts from the Opposition, contingency plans to deal with the fallout of the restrictions and the anxieties that were increased due to Covid were not thought out properly.
All people, no matter their background, who have found themselves in situations where their mental health needs were put on hold are now going to need greater attention and more accessible supports. Similarly, this applies to people who have lost loved ones in the course of the pandemic and were unable to grieve properly. Many people whose businesses were affected or who were in a grim financial situation are going to need help. Domestic violence increased. Many people are likely to have found their ability to escape abuse has been limited because Covid has limited their options so much. This week, the Irish Youth Foundation shed light on how investment in youth services is important in providing counselling and enhanced intervention supports. Extended absences from school and long periods of isolation and a lack of structure are a particular concern for the long-term mental health of young people and must be addressed.
Earlier this week, I welcomed the planned reopening of day centres for older people. It is an important milestone for those who suffered considerable isolation. We now need certainty that the physical and emotional needs that have built up since the onset of the pandemic will be recognised and provided for. It is therefore crucial that funding for the adaptation of centres is accompanied by increased availability of mental health staff, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and other support workers our older people will need in order to address their mental and physical health needs.
The WHO has said that 14% of a country's health budget should be set aside for mental health. At 5.2%, we fall way short of this and the 10% minimum pledged under Sláintecare does not live up to that standard. The Government must meet this standard because Covid will be with us for some time and so will the impacts of the measures needed to deal with it.