Seanad debates

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Health and Safety

10:30 am

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this matter. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Daly, who could not be here but who welcomes the discussion on this important area.

We continue to discuss issues of mental health in the workplace and training for people involved in that area. It is an area of high priority for the Government for many reasons, including those put forward by Senator Buttimer. It is important not just for work and economic reasons, which I will deal with today, but for all the other reasons. The benefits of looking after our mental health are vitally important. It is important that we have that conversation regularly, no matter where we work, but in particular on behalf of employees. The issue is rightly getting much more attention now than it got in the past, which is important.

Mental health is a priority concern for the Government, with funding increasing from €711 million in 2012 to nearly €1 billion in 2019, an increase of 39%. Training and education for employees in the mental health sector are provided by colleges through undergraduate and postgraduate courses.

There is no obligation on employers in the wider workplace to provide mental health training to their employees. Such training, however, can be beneficial to employees, employers and the overall economy. A 2017 World Health Organization report found that, at 6.3%, Ireland is in the top ten countries worldwide for the percentage of the population affected by anxiety disorders. A 2018 OECD report found that mental health difficulties cost the Irish economy €8.2 billion every year, a figure to which Senator Buttimer referred. The report states also that conditions like anxiety and depression are causing a 3% reduction in the country's GDP through stress-related absenteeism, for example.

To address this issue, the HSE mental health division funds various partner organisations, such as Mental Health First Aid Ireland, to provide courses that teach awareness of the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and how to provide help. These courses teach employees to recognise the signs and symptoms of mental health problems and to help colleagues and friends who might be developing a mental health problem.

Similarly, the HSE National Office for Suicide Prevention, NOSP, is involved in a range of training initiatives around suicide prevention and mental health promotion. The safeTALK and ASIST suicide prevention programmes are available free of charge to all members of the community, and courses are run throughout the country. While these courses are not specific to workplaces, under the whole-of-Government national strategy to reduce suicide, Connecting for Life, Departments and agencies have agreed to implement the action on training of staff across the civil and public service in suicide awareness, particularly those who are public facing.

NOSP also funds NGOs, including Shine and Suicide or Survive, to provide work-based mental health-suicide prevention programmes. SeeChange is the national mental health stigma reduction partnership that provides training to workplaces. Its goal is to help facilitate a cultural shift in workplaces around Ireland so that employers and employees can begin to feel supported and secure in starting a discussion about the mental health problems that can affect each one of us.

A Vision For Change, the national mental health policy, is being refreshed. The revised policy has identified early intervention and training as a main priority. The revised policy will include recommendations to improve online training initiatives that seek to support young people in schools and medical teams in training, and that seek to target access by individuals in the workplace to individual and corporate mental health training. In addition, the revised policy recommends training to be made available to service users, families and peer workers to support resilience building and promote prevention strategies. All training will be augmented by Healthy Ireland promotion strategies where national health and well-being campaigns and initiatives will be rolled out locally, regionally and nationally.

I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this important issue, which is one we have a duty to debate while encouraging the same to happen in all workplaces.


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