Last week, we saw an allocation of €37 million toward mental health in the budget of the right wing coalition government in Southern Ireland. This falls far short of the type of funding that is needed and will mean very little if the severe staffing crisis in mental health services is not dealt with immediately.
Ireland has some of the highest rates of mental illness in Europe, but we have yet to see a serious approach being taken to improving our services. The World Health Organisation recommends that 12% of a country’s spending budget go toward mental health, yet in Ireland, less than half that is spent. A €10 million fund was announced in February to attempt to deal with the mental health impact of Covid-19, yet it remains unspent. Despite the urgency, the government refuse to take any serious action and people struggling with their mental health continue to be ignored.
The crisis in our mental health services has long been present and has been exacerbated further by the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost 60% of people feel that their mental health has been negatively affected by Covid-19. The pandemic itself, social isolation, job losses and financial insecurity, are just some of the reasons why we’ve seen an increase in the numbers of people reaching out for mental health support. What they find is a service decimated by cuts and underfunding, with severe understaffing, prolonged waiting lists and limited community supports.
Privatisation of services
Mental health services are becoming increasingly privatised. Therapists, assessments and in-patient treatments are expensive and unaffordable for many working class people, but the only alternative is to remain on a waiting list for months. There are currently over 10,000 people on waiting lists for primary care psychology, and over half have been waiting for more than a year. People are forced to present as suicidal in A&E in order to access emergency supports, as they do not exist or are not easily availed of in communities. Many people rely on charities, which are also over-run and reported a massive increase in calls since Covid-19. Samaritans suicide prevention charity answered a phone call every 56 seconds in 2020. People all around the country participate in Pieta House’s Darkness into Light fundraiser for suicide prevention every year. Disgracefully, so do a number of government TD’s (members of parliament) who are sitting on the money to improve the public mental health services which is used would mean people wouldn’t have to rely on charities in the first place.
Insufficient funding is not good enough
Early assessment and intervention are crucial for mental illness. We need to end the crisis of staffing by recruiting more staff, including psychologists, physiatrists, counsellors and nurses. All staff must be provided with a decent wage and good terms and conditions. This along with increased funding of services could see an end to the now normalised practice of those in crisis waiting many months or even years to access services. Many people are forced to travel way beyond their locality to access help; we need to ensure that there is a mass expansion in community mental health resources.
We also need specialised support for schools, prisons and addiction services. Specialised support for minorities such as the Travelling community must be seriously improved. Suicide rates are astronomical among Travellers and extremely disproportionate to the rest of society. LGBTQ+ people also suffer high levels of mental illness and bullying.
For people with eating disorders, it is also extremely difficult to get help. There are an estimated 1,750 new cases of eating disorders every year in the 10-49 age brackets in Ireland, but still, there has only been €5.7 million in funding for eating disorder recovery since 2017. In 2020, the government cut funding entirely. The €1.15 million allocated to the National Clinical Programme for eating disorders will be a drop in the ocean compared to what’s necessary.
Covid-19 has laid bare the mass inequality in our society and the poverty and insecurity that so many people live under. As socialists, we want to materially change society for the better for working class people. Mental illness is experienced by people from all class backgrounds, but things like a living wage of EUR 15 per hour, secure employment, comprehensive benefits, free education and decent housing would be transformative for many working class people suffering from their mental health.
We are fighting for a socialist society with a planned economy based on need, without the profit motive, where access to mental health services would not be based on your financial income. According to the European Union statistics agency Eurostat, the South of Ireland is the second richest country in the European Union in terms of GDP per capita. This wealth must be directed towards delivering radical and immediate improvements to the health system, including the provision of mental health care. We are fighting for a society where working class people are not consumed by insecurity and uncertainty, but given the means to live a life unburdened by the capitalist system.