Counselling service demand rising
One in every five referrals received by a Northern Ireland-wide counselling service last year was for people living in east Belfast.
New Life Counselling opened a dedicated office in the area on Friday to cope with what it described as a massively increased demand.
The charity said it currently had 83 people from east Belfast on its waiting list for professional help, with the number continuing to soar. It cited rises in deprivation, mental illness and suicide rates as factors influencing the mounting demand for counselling.
The New Life service will operate out of the Skainos building on the Newtownards Road.
Karen Collins, chief executive of the organisation, said: "As with every inner city area, east Belfast has significant issues of poverty and unemployment, with the associated mental health issues being just as severe.
"Since July 2011 New Life Counselling has been delivering much-needed services in east Belfast through the use of facilities in the Holywood Arches Practice and in the time we have seen a dramatic increase in the level of referrals for counselling support. By 2012, 20% of all the charity's referrals for counselling came from east Belfast and New Life Counselling decided that the only way of keeping up with demand was to open new offices in the area."
Ms Collins said one in four people in Northern Ireland are affected by a mental health problem and estimated that the cost per head of population of dealing with mental health issues in society was £1,680. She said investing in preventative therapies was therefore cost effective for the public purse.
The charity's new premises is to be opened by East Belfast Assembly members Sammy Douglas and Chris Lyttle.
The DUP's Mr Douglas said: "Since its inception in 1993 New Life Counselling has provided an excellent dedicated service right across the community and I look forward to working in partnership with them to deliver this excellent service throughout the constituency."
Mr Lyttle, of the Alliance Party, added: "I am acutely aware of the urgent need for additional counselling resources in east Belfast and I know that New Life Counselling will work with other organisations to ensure we deliver access to a range of services to achieving our aim of good mental health for all people in our community."