When I started researching the statistics I was appalled to discover just how far behind Northern Ireland is when compared to the rest of the UK. Mental health is an issue that is very close to my heart. As somebody who suffers from depression, how the government treats those with mental health issues concerns me greatly and it needs to change.
Understandably, Northern Ireland has a higher rate of people with mental health issues. Due to The Troubles Northern Irish people have suffered arguably more loss and trauma within the 50 to 60 years. 1 in 4 adults suffer from a mental health problem, yet Northern Ireland is consistently the country within the UK that spends the lowest on mental health care. In 2016 roughly £225 million was spent on mental health, which may seem like a lot, until you learn that the overall health budget was £4.9 billion.
Those with mental health problems are often ignored, seen as “looking for attention”, or told to “man up”. This is an issue that is reflected throughout our entire society and is strengthened through the governments apparent dismissal of what is the single largest cause of disability within Northern Ireland. It is an issue that rears its ugly head when people are only taken seriously if they show signs of a physical illness but not a mental one, when people talk about going to counselling and are met with people who call them crazy, when people are afraid to talk about their issues because of how they may be treated differently. Northern Ireland’s treatment of mental health issues is inherently flawed, there is not enough education surrounding the topic. Nor enough support. In most school there is a counsellor once a week, and while that is a start, I strongly believe once a week is not enough. School children should feel as if they can only get help on certain days, especially if they are not comfortable talking to a teacher. Providing support at a young age is essential, if young teenagers with mental health issues do not speak to anyone, their problems will fester and grow and become worse, leading to issues later in life. I speak from experience. It is crucial that schools provide the support needed and make all pupils aware that there is somebody to talk to and to help.
Achieving this goal means ridding ourselves of the taboo that is connected to mental health. There is a stigma around discussing mental health issues that we as a society cannot seem to shake. People are afraid to discuss anything to do with mental health and therefore look the other way when it is mentioned. Even our government, when running, were using this tactic. Rather than face it head on people would rather look the other way and pretend it doesn’t exist, worsening the problem and furthering the already strong stigma surrounding the issue.
With the government’s refusal to face mental health comes the lack of money. As aforementioned, a very small part of the health budget is allocated for mental health. This causes major issues. Recently I was referred for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a type of therapy that reconstruct how you think about certain issues and helps you deal with triggers you may face. This is a therapy that gets very good feedback and is used for all sorts of mental health issues such as depression, ADHD and OCD. It has helped many people and continues to do so. However, after I was referred I received a letter telling that that they hope to be in a position to offer me an appointment within 7 months. 7 months. For some people, with severe depression or anxiety or stress, 7 months could be too long. It shocked me just how long I would have to wait to receive help for a problem that greatly effects my life. If I had a broken arm or leg I would get treated within a couple of hours, and I appreciate that due to assessments the mental health process takes longer, but 7 months is too long. I know people who have ended up spending thousands of pounds to talk to a private doctor after the mental health services let them down and kept them waiting for help for a number of years meaning that they were unable to get the correct diagnosis and the treatment that they needed.
The government needs to appreciate how large of an issue mental health is in Northern Ireland and begin to put more money into improving mental health services across Northern Ireland. It is not a small issue that can be ignored. Mental ill-health effects everything, those suffering from severe mental health problems could find it hard to work or keep a job. By investing in proper mental health care services the country could end up better economically as there will be more people able to work and bring money in. Mental health is not an issue that should be pushed to the side or forgotten about, it affects too much of our population to pretend that it does not matter and desperately needs attention. The health care service is general is flawed and not a great system but there is a major fall down in the mental health care sector. People in need are not seen to or not given the treatment they need. They aren’t taken seriously because they don’t fulfill certain pre-set categories or, if they are 16 to 19, they get pushed between the child and adult sector. To me this is one of the largest failings of the mental health care system. Teenagers, of 16 to 19 are sent to the child mental health department, only to be sent back to the adults. It is an endless cycle that has caused people to just give up all together on getting help because it has taken too long and has caused too much stress. Doctors do not seem to want to have to deal with teenagers on the cusp of adulthood and we quite often find it harder to be taken seriously, and therefore cannot get the treatment that we need.
The mental health care system is seriously flawed and it is getting harder and harder for people to get treated. With the rising numbers of people now seeking help for their mental health issues, the lack of money means that the mental health care services are unable to service those who are in need, the government needs to recognise this and give the sector the money that it so desperately needs and the attention it deserves.
Vicki is 18 and studying is 4 subjects, including Psychology, at Wellington College, Belfast. She has been struggling with mental health issues since the age of 14.