'Unacceptable' delays for psychological treatment
Northern Ireland's five health trusts are failing to meet target waiting times for people with mental health problems, a report has claimed.
Waiting times for mental health treatments and psychological therapies have been increasing over the past five years, according to statistics from the Health and Social Care Board.
Mental illness levels in Northern Ireland are approximately 25% higher than the rest of the UK.
The board has indicated that about 160 full-time staff are needed, along with approximately £17m, in order to treat people within the 13-week target.
Currently, just 6% to 8% of the board's budget is spent on mental health and psychological therapy services.
In a statement released to the BBC, the board accepted that the figures demonstrated "a legacy of unmet need".
It also claimed that health trusts were struggling because of an "increased awareness of the important role that psychological therapies play in enabling mental health recovery".
It added that it "acknowledged and apologised" for the "unacceptable waiting times for psychological therapies".
UUP mental health spokesperson Robbie Butler said that mental health should be at the centre of the health service because it affects all of society.
"It is estimated that one in four adults and one in nine children will experience mental health problems at some point in their lives," the MLA added.
"Not enough is being done to prioritise mental health and wellbeing, and more should be done to establish parity of recognition with physical health."
Michelle Byrne from AWARE, Northern Ireland's national depression charity, said: "Depression is a serious illness that affects thousands of people in Northern Ireland. It's treatable and nobody has to face it alone.
"We would urge anyone with depression and needing help to go along to any of our support groups. These groups have been described by many as lifesaving.
"One in six people in Northern Ireland have been prescribed anti-depressant medication."
Alliance MLA and health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw called the waiting time figures an "unacceptable failing" and said that mental wellbeing advocates should be created in the community and the voluntary sectors in order to relieve pressure on waiting lists.