Mental health costs money


Conor Cusack’s astonishing blogpost and discussion on RTE Primetime on Tuesday night has blasted open the issue of depression.

Like well-known people such as Mary McEvoy and George Hook, the Cloyne man has spoken out in the wake of a terrible event to encourage others suffering from depression to seek help.

Like the founders of wonderful charities like Suicide Aware, Pieta House and Console – all of whom got involved in mental health due to personal losses – he wants to help vulnerable people.

His account is philosophical and, above all, honest. It speaks to people. My Facebook feed has been full of it, with many of those who posted it themselves familiar with the black dog. If you haven’t read it, an edited version is on page 26.

So many people are now talking about depression that in some ways, it is no longer a taboo. Until you read survey results suggesting that one-third of Irish people wouldn’t vote for a politician who suffers from depression. That cuts out a massive swathe of the population from making decisions that benefit all of us.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons that mental health has been low on the list of priorities for successive governments.

As the campaigns around mental illness have ramped up, there have been promises of reform, care in the community, rejuvenation of existing mental institutions and a more pastoral approach to mental illness. There has been, in other words, a lot of spin. A lot of reports launched, photoshoots, information campaigns, new logos.

In the Programme for Government, we were promised that €35m would be ringfenced annually for mental health. So far, that has failed to materialise, with just €20m announced in this month’s Budget. This is in the context of massive ovveruns elsewhere in the Department of Health, and free lollies – sorry, GP cards – for the under 5s.

In 2011, the Psychiatric Nurses’ Association warned: “since the publication of Vision for Change, the Government blueprint for the Mental Health Services, €150m was announced in necessary additional expenditure for implementation of the Plan. However in the same actual five year period total spending has reduced from €800m to €708m.”

In its pre-Budget submission this year, Mental Health Reform quoted the Inspector of Mental Health Services, who found that, in 2012, the services were “stagnant and perhaps have slipped backwards in 2012”. It also stated that “traditional, medicalised” mental health treatment was being offered to more people “rather than the holistic service propounded in A Vision for Change” – the same holistic service Conor Cusack eventually benefited from, although he had to go private.

The Inspector of Mental Health Services found that mental health services were ‘stagnant and perhaps have slipped backwards in 2012’. The Inspector also found that most people will be offered a more traditional, medicalised version of mental health treatment rather than the holistic service propounded in A Vision for Change. T
Government spokespersons are keen to stand in photos with representatives from mental health charities that are working hard to fundraise for facilities that should be provided by the State. It is easy to launch reports; it is another thing entirely to implement them.

Conor Cusack’s bravery in speaking out is remarkable. He is clearly a remarkable person. Watching him on Primetime, I was struck by his similarity to our late columnist John McCarthy, who campaigned with Mad Pride for better care for what he referred to as ‘the normality of madness’.

I hope he can resist the politicians who will try and use him now, as a poster boy for ‘awareness campaigns’, when what’s really needed is more counselling services; more psychologists; better training for GPs in dealing with mental health crises; more services in the community and ‘listening cures’. In other words, things that cost money.

Those who sacrifice their privacy to highlight an issue as personal as mental health are ill-served by Government spin and double-speak.

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