One of Northern Ireland’s leading counselling organisations has warned against cuts to the mental health budget. With finance minister Sammy Wilson having warned of £2 billion of cuts on their way, and the Stormont Executive clearly split over how to address the pain to come, Karen Collins-Neill, chief executive of Northern Ireland based New Life Counselling has warned of the consequences of cutting the mental health budget.
With only a quarter of those with mental health problems currently able to receive the treatment they need, she says:
“Any cuts in mental health services could well lead to devastating consequences for individuals, families and communities. New Life Counselling believes that everyone has the right to access help and support when they need it.
“We understand that there are serious concerns regarding the state of public finances in Northern Ireland and that the minister for health (Michael McGimpsey) is battling to save what funding he has.
“However, we believe that the department of health has the power to make a major impact, not only on the lives of the one in four people in Northern Ireland suffering from a mental health condition, but also on our society, socially and economically.”
In the most recent health and wellbeing survey of residents in Northern Ireland, conducted in 2005, it was found that 19 per cent of those surveyed over the age of 16 were showing signs of mental health problems of one for or another. Furthermore, New Life Counselling’s recently published manifesto makes clear the economic case for proper investment in mental health services.
“A study by the Northern Ireland Association for Mental Health and the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health shows that the total costs of mental illness in Northern Ireland amounted to £2.8 billion (£1,680 per head population) in 2002/03.
“In comparison it is estimated that a comprehensive programme of psychological therapies would cost just £250 per head population producing a saving of 84%.”
The concerns over future investment in Northern Ireland’s services stand in stark contrast to the position adopted in the south. Despite the economic difficulties being faced by the Republic, Ireland’s mental health minister John Moloney concludes:
“… at the end of the day dealing with the increased suicide figures this year and dealing with the demands set out in Vision for Change , I have to argue for an increased budget for mental health.”
With the coalition finalising its much anticipated spending review, and Stormont braced for its consequences, the warnings over Northern Ireland’s mental health services and the lesson from Ireland should be clear – tackling the deficit does not mean having to adversely impact the most vulnerable.