Faith Matters

Mental ill-health an issue for all

Dr Richard Clarke, the Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh

THERE is an urgent need for more to be done to stem the "immense upsurge" in mental ill-health, Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke has said.

The Church of Ireland already has courses on mental health for those involved in ministry with young people as well as suicide awareness training, but these need to be made more widely available, Dr Clarke told the Armagh Diocesan Synod meeting of lay people and clergy.

Dr Clarke said that while mental health problems were particularly acute among young people, people of all ages were affected.

"In a recent survey in Northern Ireland, over 40 per cent of 16-25 year olds said that they had experienced a mental health problem, and nearly 70 per cent that they 'always or often' feel stressed," he said.

"One in five in a younger age-group - 11-15 year olds - in the Republic of Ireland experience clear symptoms of anxiety or constant nervousness, according to the latest report issued by Unicef Ireland.

Dr Clarke cited figures from the Samaritans which showed that since 2014 the overall suicide rate in the UK had increased by 3.8 per cent, during which time it had increased in Northern Ireland by 18.5 per cent.

"Taking the figures year on year, this means that more people have died through suicide in Northern Ireland since the signing of the Belfast Agreement than died from violence during the Troubles," said Dr Clarke.

"Despite this terrible reality there is not enough funding available to address suicide and mental health problems in a proactive and beneficial way within the Province."

It was important "to accept that mental ill-health is not an issue only for the young", said Dr Clarke.

"Many older people, suffer isolation or depression and do not have the confidence to look for help from others," he said.

"To be alert to the suffering of others without being intrusive or overbearing is a difficult balance to bring to our relationships."

Elsewhere in his address, Dr Clarke called on the Church of Ireland to take risks to fulfil its "ambitions for the Kingdom of God".

In a fast-changing world, the Church should not settle for mere survival.

"It was Our Lord who said that whoever seeks only to save his or her life will assuredly lose it," he said.

"Part of the continuing good health of any Christian community is the degree to which it looks outside itself and its own continued existence.

"Real health is not achieved when we simply wrap ourselves up and refuse to take any steps outside familiar and unruffled surroundings."

Beyond the Church, political drift meant "we are living in dangerous times", said Dr Clarke.

"When a stable society begins to collapse and when democratic norms no longer seem to work, other saviours will emerge but they are not the ones we need," he warned.

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