Amnesty International Ireland (AI) has challenged politicians to make mental health a political priority for 2010. The call to action comes on the fourth anniversary of A Vision for Change, the Government’s mental health policy, which was published on 24 January 2006
Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of AI, said: “Four years after the publication of A Vision for Change, hope has turned to disillusionment. By its own admission, the Government has not brought about the changes necessary to deliver a modern mental health service.
“This has happened in part because mental health is not given the priority it deserves. We urgently need a renewed political commitment to mental health from all parties.”
In a letter sent to all politicians in the Oireachtas, Mr O’Gorman said, “Only you, as an elected official, can make the changes in policy and legislation that are needed to improve the lives and respect the human rights of people with mental health problems.”
A Vision for Change lays out a roadmap to modernise Ireland’s mental health service, shifting from one focused on hospital care to a comprehensive community based approach. Despite this promise of a change in culture, the HSE continues to heavily invest in institutional care over properly organised community care. One third of the national mental health budget is spent on long stay residential services and as of the end of 2008 only one fifth of staff in the mental health services were working in community care teams.
Mr O’Gorman said, “Politicians must realise that their inaction has a direct bearing on the lives of those people who elect them. For those with mental health problems who are failed by the State, the consequences are dire.
“The economic cost of poor mental health is estimated at €3 billion annually. The human costs, in terms of discrimination, social exclusion and suffering, are inestimable.”
This isn’t just a problem for the Department of Health. There has been little or no response from other Government departments even though A Vision for Change makes numerous recommendations for other departments, for example in housing, education and employment.
“Access to housing, employment and education are fundamentally important if we are serious about improving Ireland’s mental health system. A Vision for Change promised a joined up Government response yet Ministers with relevant portfolios have thus far shirked their responsibilities in responding to mental health.”
The call echoes a statement made by the Minister for State with responsibility for Mental Health, John Moloney T.D., where he asked politicians to consider devoting 2010 to “a consideration of mental health issues”.
Mr O’Gorman added, “We now need other politicians to step forward and show they are committed to protecting the rights of people with mental health problems.”
There have been some positive recent developments. A cross party interest group on mental health has recently been set up in the Oireachtas by Senator Frances Fitzgerald and Deputy Chris Andrews. More than 40 TDs and senators have supported this across all parties. Budget 2010 promised €43 million for capital investment in mental health services.
“These are causes for cautious optimism. But the history of mental health over the last 25 years has been on of false dawns. Politicians must make 2010 the year when we finally deliver real change.
“It is clear policy alone is not working. Legislation is now needed to ensure we get the long-heralded reform of our mental health services.”