A NEW study by charity Action Mental Health (AMH) in partnership with Queen’s University Belfast has warned that substantial funding cuts to psychiatric support services in Northern Ireland is systematically failing the needs of the mentally unwell.
The research, which sought the views of service users, providers and carers in regards to the provision of local mental health facilities, flagged a series of pitfalls in the current healthcare system which is compromising the wellbeing of mental health patients.
Compared to a funding increase of 136% in primary care services in the last six years, the research cites an underspend of 26% in mental health facilities in Northern Ireland, deeming it the ‘Cinderella Service of the NHS’ by concerned officials from the statutory, community and voluntary sectors.
Following the research launch held which was held during World Mental Health Week, Chief Executive of AMH, David Babington said: “Given the precarious state of the economic climate, we accept that the Northern Ireland Executive has had to make a number of difficult decisions to ensure the local economy survives these politically and financially turbulent times.
“However, the cutbacks to already underfunded mental health facilities has devastated those who deeply rely on them to receive professional help and who are subsequently having to wait longer to receive care due to lack of government funding and support.
“Political discord is affecting mental health services on the ground and will continue to do so in the coming years, unless drastic measures are implemented. We desperately need a functioning government to work for mental health and help organisations like us provide services for people across the region.”
Service users who took part in the study expressed feelings of increased social isolation, stigmatisation, and frustration with the current system due to lack of understanding and investment in resources, education and professional training.
A service user speaking at the event said: “Along with other difficulties, the one that was most challenging was the stigma of being classified as being‘different’.”
Previous studies have shown that Northern Ireland has some of the poorest mental health ratings in the UK and Ireland, with an estimated one in five people here suffering from a mental health illness in their lifetime (Public Health Agency, 2014).
David Babington added: “Given the intensely personal and often devastating nature of mental illness, it became absolutely apparent from the research that many feel the system fails to treat them as ‘people’, rather they are left feeling like problems to be managed or solved which is something that can no longer be ignored.
“We named the report ‘Regress? React? Resolve? As a means of highlighting the options and ramifications for government and mental health services. We hope government react positively and work with our sector to help find resolutions to current struggles.”
Following the launch of the final report, AMH has published several recommendations for government in Northern Ireland. These include:
• Government funding needs to be made available to improve mental health services in Northern Ireland and protected against budget cuts in the future.
• The DHSSPS and HSC need to establish a regional working group to examine the extent and impact of provision fragmentation and encourage greater integration between different services.
• An independent Mental Health Champion for NI needs to be established in order to defend the rights and interests of people living with mental illness and renew the Bamford vision.