Life

North's first mental health summit to hear calls for Stormont action

Assembly health committee chairwoman Maeve McLoughlin helps David Babington and Amy Black of Action Mental Health to push mental health to the top of Stormont's agenda

MENTAL health charity Action Mental Health (AMH) is to host Northern Ireland's first ever mental health summit later this month, when it will urge the Stormont executive to take what it says is urgently needed action.

This event comes in the wake of AMH's recent report on mental health service provision, carried out by Queen's University Belfast, which showed a need for more funding, education and leadership in mental health in the north and recommended the establishment of a mental health champion for the north. Eight other mental health charities have backed the report.

AMH chief executive David Babington said last month's announcements of funding increases for mental health provision of almost £1 billion in England and £54 million in Scotland stood "in stark contrast" to Northern Ireland.

“This further highlights the urgency for similar leadership and commitment from the executive to address the sustained deficiencies in our services, which is putting the health of clients at risk,” he said.

"Cutbacks to already underfunded mental health facilities have 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."

Research has shown that despite mental illness being 25 per cent more common in Northern Ireland than in England, with a higher rate of suicide than anywhere else in the UK, there has been an underspend of 26 per cent in mental-health support here in the past six years.

“Our recent research entitled ‘Regress, React, Resolve', shows the need to improve funding, address problems with fragmentation in service provision, provide greater focus on education, tackle stigma, and provide leadership for mental health in Northern Ireland," Mr Babington said.

“Mental health services here are at a major crossroads and there is a real danger that any gains made in recent years may be reversed by lack of commitment and resources."

Guests at the mental health summit will include mental health champion for schools in England Natasha Devon, leading political figures, professionals from across the health sector and service users. They will aim "to collectively discuss how we can improve the Departmental Health Strategy going forward", according to Mr Babington.

Last month the Royal College of Psychiatrists also called on political parties in the north to support the appointment of a mental health champion and to give mental health "specific political focus".

:: The mental health summit will take place on February 24 at Belfast's Stormont Hotel. For more information visit amh.org.uk or facebook.com/amhNI.

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