Still a long way to go for Mental Health support in Northern Ireland

By Daren Johnston
Partner specialising in Mental Health Law

Mental Health resources continue to be stretched in Northern Ireland, and campaigners warn that patients are being put at serious risk.

Despite government promises of increased funding, mental health services are shrinking rapidly. As the Mater hospital transfers its psychiatric beds to Belfast City hospital next month, the overall number of beds available to patients will see a significant decrease.

A profound shortage of nursing staff is also cause for concern, and has resulted in a number of social workers having to carry out assessments of mental health patients for want of a qualified nurse.

A lack of staff and resources has the knock on effect of longer waiting times for patients who require mental health care, and campaigners are warning that even those assessments that are being performed are distinctly less than comprehensive. This is also seen in the widespread failure to meet the four hour wait target for patients seeking emergency care for their mental health.

Perhaps the most damning indictment of the state of our mental health services comes from a recent audit office report which states that Northern Ireland’s police service is being used as a ‘last resort’ for mentally ill patients due to the widespread lack of crisis services. Police officers having to provide services beyond the scope of their training and abilities is of no benefit to anyone, and especially so for a mental health patient in serious need of professional help.

Northern Ireland has seen some movement in the realms of mental health in recent years. Factors such as increased media campaigning and social media discussions have done a lot to address the stigma of everyday mental health, as well as to promote the importance of self care and seeking help when needed. Everyone from actors and athletes to reality television stars are being increasingly more open about their struggles with mental health and burnout, and mental health discussion is much more prominent in the public discourse than ever before.

It is estimated that approximately 250,000 adults and 45,000 children in Northern Ireland suffer from mental health problems, and it is thought that contributing factors are unemployment, low educational achievement and social deprivation. Research also suggests that between one-third and two-thirds of children whose parents have mental health problems will also go on to experience some form of mental illness.

If you require legal advice from a solicitor specialising in mental health law in Northern Ireland contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast or Bangor by clicking here.