The Fine Gael Leader Enda Kenny today (Friday) predicted the youth suicide epidemic in Ireland would continue to grow because ‘people with mental illness and their families are a silent constituency, which the Government is prepared to go on ignoring’.
He told the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association Conference Dinner at the Slieve Russell Hotel in Cavan that, in Government, Fine Gael would prioritise mental health, both in hospitals and in the community. He proposed a greater role for patients themselves and their families, in patient care plans.
Critically, he warmly praised the psychiatric nurses for their ‘exceptional work in frequently appalling conditions’, saying ‘you have remembered what our Government has forgotten: your duty to look after our people and their dignity, especially those who are fragile, because of problems with their emotional and mental health’.
Up to 90% of people who take their life are found to suffer from a psychiatric disorder and Deputy Kenny accused the Government of ‘ignoring this crucial connection and persisting in their reckless under-funding of our psychiatric services. In particular, psychiatric services for children and adolescents’.
Deputy Kenny commended the work of his colleague Deputy Dan Neville, the President of the Irish Association of Suicidology, for his consistent work in prioritising the issue of suicide and mental health matters. “I have no doubt that Government neglect of mental health is contributing significantly to the youth suicide crisis, now claiming more young lives than road accidents.”
“Two hundred thousand children will have a mental or behavioural disorder at any one time, but they and their parents cannot rely on an adequate mental health service. For example, we need 236 in-patient and child and adolescent psychiatric beds, but we have only 20 in Dublin and Galway. We need 150 child and adolescent psychiatric posts. We have only 62. We need 39 dedicated adolescent outpatient psychiatric teams. But, there’s not a single one available.
“It’s perfectly obvious: in Ireland 2006, suicide and self-harm are taking lives, ruining families, yet thanks to this Government’s neglect, these people have nowhere to turn to, nowhere to go. If we are at all serious about protecting our young, in particular, our young people who are fragile, we must take a radically different approach and move mental health up the agenda. Early intervention and emergency response are critical. We’ve seen from tragic cases reported in the media that mental health problems don’t keep office hours, therefore, neither should the mental health services.”
Deputy Kenny also told the conference that to guarantee comfort, dignity and best outcome, patients with psychiatric illnesses should play a great role in the decision-making regarding their care. “There is something deeply disturbing about patients with a mental illness being excluded from their care plan or being branded troublesome by the psychiatric services if they demur. Remember, this is the 21st century. I also want to see their families consulted on their care. Doctors should not use ‘patient confidentiality’ to exclude the families of people with mental illness from decisions on the proposed care plan or treatment.”
Enda Kenny said that Fine Gael in Government would prioritise mental health: “Depression alone is set to become the second most disabling medical disorder in the world by the year 2010. There are serious economic implications here. Ireland needs to wake up to that fact that our emotional health is every bit as crucial as our physical health. One in four people experiences a problem with their mental health. We have a long life ahead of us, hopefully, and which of us knows when it will be our turn to experience it for ourselves?”