Sinn Féin - On Your Side

O Neill calls for support for mental health services

3 March, 2007

Sinn Féin Councillor and candidate for Mid Ulster Michelle O'Neill speaking during the health session said:

Across this island thousands of people suffer from poor mental health; thousands of people are left without the support and services they need and hundreds of people die as a result of suicide.

Ireland has the second highest rate of suicide in Europe. The suicide rate on the island has increased by more than 25% over the last decade. The death toll by suicide is now greater than the number of people killed in traffic accidents. Across this island 645 people died as a result of suicide in 2004/2005. That equates to 2 People per day.

Whether in North West Kerry, West Belfast or Mid Ulster families are devastated by the pain of loved ones taking their own lives. This problem
transcends gender, age, class, ethnicity and religion. It affects rural and urban communities alike.

Yet governments in Dublin and Belfast are failing to give this issue the attention it demands. It is a national disgrace. Suicide is the biggest killer of our young people.

We also have people in our prisons with mental health problems - people dying in our prisons who should never ever have been in prison in the first place.

The tragic death of Roseanne Irvine in Maghaberry Prison highlighted the issue. Even now, almost three years later, there are individuals with mental health needs being dealt with by the criminal justice system. Dumping people with mental health needs in prison is unacceptable.

We have people locked away in institutions like Muckamore Abbey in the north - who are trapped because of the failure of the state to provide the care and community settings that are required - children are locked up for years and years after the completion of their treatment.

On both sides of the border our mental health services are under funded and under developed. It is time for both governments to grasp the bull by the horns.

The call for an all-Ireland centre of Excellence to deal with mental illness - similar to the Middletown Centre for Autism developed by Martin is an excellent suggestion and I urge delegates here to recognise that mental illness is an issue for us all - it affects so many people.

We must work to ensure not only better services but also to challenge the stigma attached to mental illness.

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