Parties unite to call for parity between mental and physical health

There was little political point scoring today from local party representatives as they united behind the common theme of mental health during a special hustings hosted by The Mental Health Policy Group (NI).

Consisting of Action Mental Health, Inspire, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the British Psychological Society, the umbrella policy group issued its General Election Call to Action to five of Northern Ireland’s main political parties.

The ‘Action Not Words’ event, hosted by Action Mental Health’s corporate partner, the Law Society, reiterated calls for an independent Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland and for parity between mental and physical health.

The event was attended by the Alliance Party’s Paula Bradshaw, Robbie Butler, from the Ulster Unionist Party, Rachel Woods of the Green Party, Paul Doherty of the SDLP and the DUP’s Paula Bradley. Sinn Fein was invited but could not attend.

Clients of Action Mental Health quizzed the representatives on key issues of mental health.

Paula Bradshaw of the Alliance Party echoed calls for recurrent, ring-fenced funding for the creation of a new Mental Health Champion, and also voiced frustration at the continuing suspension of Stormont.

The DUP’s Paula Bradley, agreed, stating there was an urgent need to narrow the gap between mental and physical health, while the UUP’s Robbie Butler lamented what he described as ‘unambitious’ targets published in the Protect Life Two paper on suicide prevention, unveiled recently.

The SDLP’s Paul McCusker, spoke of the need for support for people suffering the double burden of mental health issues and addictions, while The Green Party’s Rachel Woods called for the implementation of existing legislation aimed at supporting children’s mental health in schools.

Chief Executive of Action Mental Health David Babington chaired the hustings, restating the umbrella group’s call for urgent action to devise an approved and funded mental health strategy for Northern Ireland, to follow on from the Bamford process.

 “For too long mental health has been the health service’s ‘Cinderella service’ and our plea to local representatives is for the adoption of parity between physical and mental health,” said Mr Babington.

The appeal comes on the back of the publication this year, ‘Making Parity a Reality’ – a review by Ulster University and launched in conjunction with Action Mental Health. Unveiled in June the paper reiterates Action Mental Health’s demand for a fully-costed, ten-year mental health strategy with clear priorities. Northern Ireland is the only UK region without such a strategy.

Among the professionals attending the hustings, Professor Nichola Rooney, Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology, British Psychological Society (NI), added: “We need an appropriately commissioned, trained and supervised psychological workforce to meet the mental health needs of the people of Northern Ireland, across the lifespan and spectrum of need.”

Kerry Anthony, Chief Executive at Inspire, commented: “This election takes place at a time when mental health, perhaps more than ever before, is a live public health concern. We are calling on government to place mental health and wellbeing at the core of its policy outcomes, as central to its priorities as physical health and fitness.

“Our elected representatives should lead the way in recognising that improving mental health for people in Northern Ireland requires a comprehensive cross sectoral approach involving genuine joined up working across all government departments and agencies.” 

Dr Gerry Lynch, chair of RCPsych NI said: “In addition to extra resource, we need better data and better analysis of the data, with the Trusts working together as one mental health service for Northern Ireland.”

We asked each of the Party representatives to comment on the lack of a Mental Health Strategy in NI:-

Paula Bradley – Democratic Unionist Party – 3 December 2019
Paula Bradshaw – Alliance Party – 3 December 2019
Rachel Woods – The Green Party – 3 December 2019
Paul McCusker – SDLP – 3 December 2019
Robbie Butler – UUP – 3 December 2019

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