More needs to be done to promote positive mental health

23 June 2016

I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy McEntee, to the House and congratulate her on her appointment. She is passionate about this area of work. Her passion and commitment will make a big difference in the Department. Everyone in this House has admired the work done by her predecessor, Deputy Kathleen Lynch. Even though Deputy McEntee has big shoes to fill she will make her own mark on the Department. She will work very hard to deliver better services and change in the essential area of mental health.

There is a huge degree of unanimity in the House on what needs to be done to promote positive mental health and the type of services that we need. Just like yesterday’s debate on health services in general, there will be no shortage of ideas about the areas that need to be resourced and where resources should be directed. First, we need to be very clear about stopping the almost routine discussion or threat of pilfering the mental health service budget in terms of the overall and politically sensitive general health budget. It is not an overstatement to say that, traditionally, the mental health service has been one of the Cinderella services in terms of the overall funding envelope for health. My colleague, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, fought a Trojan battle to ensure that resources were ring-fenced for mental health services during the very difficult times for this State over the past few years. If we are serious about mental health funding then we need to adequately and properly fund positive promotional campaigns. We must also fund good services – and that is the point – that are proven to work and are responsive to people’s needs.

Yesterday, I met part of the leadership team of the Union of Students in Ireland, Mr. Kevin Donoghue and Ms Aoife Ní Shúilleabháin, to discuss their mental health priorities. It is an organisation that works on the front-line with young people in vulnerable situations. I pay tribute to its I Am A Reason campaign, which promotes positive mental and identifies the need for improved services across the country. That campaign, as other campaigns have pointed to, directs much of its attention towards the absence of 24-7 crisis intervention services across the country. As we all know, trauma and personal crises do not occur on a 9 to 5 basis, Monday to Friday. The official policy suggests that a network of 16 crisis houses should be provided all around the country. They would deal and provide accommodation and support to people in crisis situations, on a temporary basis, and until such time as connections could be made with the community and mental health teams to develop proper care programmes to deal with some of the issues experienced by people. Also, to address the underlying issues that precipitated the crisis in the first place. I have no doubt that the Minister of State supports this objective and I look forward to hearing her views on how the policy objective can be rolled out.

I shall conclude by responding to comments made by Senator Craughwell about bullying in the workplace. It is an insidious phenomenon. Many mental health crises that people experience can be put down to some experiences in the workplace that may have been inadequately dealt with. The Senator is right when he said that there is only civil redress available, which is a costly and slow process. Workplace bullying is a scourge and is very insidious. One of the reasons that is the case is that no clear procedures have been set down. In 2006, the task force on bullying report commented on the lack of clear and formal procedures needed to deal with bullying complaints. It also mentioned the need to outline a formal route for adjudication on bullying complaints because all too often workplace bullying complaints are not addressed quickly and efficiently and so end up in the courts, which is damaging for both the employees, who may be victims, and employers who may, in many circumstances, be doing their utmost to address an insidious situation. I wish to correct Senator Craughwell by stating that this is not a matter for the Minister of State or any colleagues in the Department of Health to address the workplace bullying, even though I am sure that the Minister of State has a view on the matter. It is a matter for the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. I ask her to accept the will of the Dáil as expressed in the support shown for the Labour Party’s motion that was tabled three weeks ago, which included a provision to counteract such bullying by putting statutory redress in place, thus providing a formal route of adjudication to ensure that the scourge of workplace bullying, that can lead to a huge amount of mental distress, be addressed efficiently and effectively. That is not the case at the moment.

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