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Mental health crisis is ‘the next pandemic we face’, says Cllr

Sean Kelly
Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Kelly pictured at the The Grove in Dunleer, March 2020. Photo Credit: Kathy Gilroy-Barry.

The mental health crisis in this country is “the next pandemic we face”, according to a Louth County councillor who has written to the HSE in order to pursue the establishment of a local mental health taskforce made of up stakeholders from across the county and region.

An OECD report from 2018 found that Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe, ranking joint third out of the 36 countries surveyed. 18.5%of the Irish population was recorded as having a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, or alcohol or drug use.

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Fianna Fáil councillor Sean Kelly tabled a motion at Monday’s July meeting of Louth County Council, calling on the local authority to establish a special taskforce with relevant stakeholders and community members focusing on the impact Covid-19 is having on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

However, Chief Executive Joan Martin said it was not the council’s place to take a leading role in combating the mental health crisis. “In my opinion, it should be led by the agency with primary responsibility for mental health – that is the HSE,” Joan Martin said, a point Director of Services Paddy Donnelly concurred with. “I don’t see us as having a primary remit in the mental health area.”

Donnelly said the local authority could contribute through committees they are on, but would not be the lead agency on the issue. “We would assist the primary providers.”

Speaking after the meeting, Cllr Kelly said he had contacted the HSE CHO Midlands Louth Meath to investigate the possibility of starting a taskforce.

“Grief, social isolation, emotional distress and indeed anxiety have become part of everyday life during Covid-19,” he said. “We face a serious crisis in mental health when this pandemic is over, in fact it’s the next pandemic we face.

“The Mental Health Reform group have said the number of people who suffer from some form of mental health illness will increase from one in five to one in three. My motion at Monday’s meeting of Louth County Council was to lead the charge in this fight and establish a special taskforce with all relevant stakeholders and agencies to combat the incoming crisis and encourage positive mental health and well-being.

“I have now written to local HSE management and asked that they take the lead on this as a matter of urgency.”

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“It is a good motion. This motion should be circulated to all councils,” Sinn Féin’s Pearse McGeough said.

“In four-and-a-half years on the council, this is the first motion I’ve seen tabled regarding mental health,” his party colleague Joanna Byrne said. “Covid-19 has only increased pressures on mental health services and resources. Mental health and addiction services are bursting at the seams. I don’t know how they’re going to cope.”

“We need a fully integrated mental health service. It shouldn’t play second fiddle to physical health.”

Independent councillor Maeve Yore added: “Anyone who has lived through the last six months has been affected by mental health. I certainly have. The key is consistent and holistic support for people with mental health issues. I hope the new government will take hold of the mental health strategy.”

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