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Alastair Campbell highlights 'mental health trauma fall-out' from Troubles

Published 23/02/2016

Alastair Campbell was part of the Labour government which helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement
Alastair Campbell was part of the Labour government which helped bring about the Good Friday Agreement

Northern Ireland has been let down by failure to tackle the mental trauma of the Troubles, Tony Blair's former head of communications Alastair Campbell said.

The rate of illness is a quarter higher following decades of violence but the level of investment a quarter lower than in other parts of the UK, the former Labour government director said. A quarter of adults will suffer from a problem at some stage in their lives.

Mr Campbell was part of the British government which helped engineer the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Campbell said: "It is hard to believe it is almost 20 years since the Good Friday Agreement was reached. It was one of the best days of my life.

"But for all the progress made elsewhere, I believe the people of Northern Ireland are being let down by the failure adequately to tackle one of the long-term legacies of the Troubles."

Mr Campbell suffers from bouts of depression after having a psychotic breakdown in the mid-1980s.

He said: "I believe mental illness is the last great taboo in our society, and that though we are making progress, we still have a long way to go before we make real the words in the NHS Constitution promising equality between treatment and understanding for physical and mental health.

"I understand all the reasons, the stigma and the taboo, why people choose not to open up.

"But I have never regretted it, and I know that we will only reach the equality we need if we all somehow make the jump together. Employers and families, as well as governments and medics, are so important in this."

He said he would always defend Tony Blair's premiership and his contribution to a new Northern Ireland was a massive part of his considerable legacy.

"So I am the last person on earth to minimise the changes that have taken place. But on mental health and mental illness, it is a less happy story."

One of the lingering effects of the Troubles is a higher level of mental ill health in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the UK.

The Action Mental Health charity said Northern Ireland had a 25% higher level of mental illness, but also a 26% lower level of investment in tackling the condition.

Mr Campbell said: "Clearly that is unacceptable and needs to change."

A Department of Health spokesman said recent developments in mental health services include an increase in funding to £247 million annually, the launch of a Regional Mental Health Care Pathway, and enhancement of psychological therapy services.

"The minister announced that a new mental trauma service is being established which will support the voluntary and community sector to create an integrated approach with the health and social care service to address mental health need.

"The service will allow for a range of interventions, meeting the spectrum of need across the community.

"It will involve leading-edge, evidence-based treatments in line with Nice guidelines, and would be based on the authoritative and internationally recognised Stepped Care model, with a focus on recovery of the individual."

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