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Improve mental healthcare now

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 26/06/2015

It has taken real courage for Liz Stott to tell the tragic story of her exceptionally talented daughter Sophy, who took her own life in March this year. Picture posed
It has taken real courage for Liz Stott to tell the tragic story of her exceptionally talented daughter Sophy, who took her own life in March this year. Picture posed

It has taken real courage for Liz Stott to tell the tragic story of her exceptionally talented daughter Sophy, who took her own life in March this year. Her suicide followed years of mental health problems, two taboos that are often hidden from view.

But Liz wanted to highlight what she feels is the lack of professional help for people like her daughter and, understandably, feels that if mental healthcare provision was better her daughter might well be alive today.

She is to be applauded for baring her soul in the hope that it will lead to better services in what is often called the Cinderella of healthcare.

And she is not alone in feeling that mental healthcare is not given the priority or resources that it deserves.

For this is a major problem. Last year it was revealed that one in five people in Northern Ireland shows symptoms of possible mental health problems. Naturally, a substantial number will recover from relatively minor problems, but many others, like Sophy, will see no light at the end of the tunnel.

Last October the then Health Minister Jim Wells launched an initiative committing health and social care services to deliver care which is more personalised and improves the experience of people with mental health problems.

Mental health charities do a lot of very good work in this area of health care, but inevitably each will have its own particular focus and range of services. What Sophy needed, according to her mum, was a care package which took account of her austistic tendencies and vulnerability. Too often care can come in a one-size-fits-all package which may not be the best therapy.

Providing better services will not come cheaply, especially after years of under-investment but the scale of the problem is such that it cannot be ignored. Continued failure to invest in better and more personalised services will result in more tragedies like the death of this brilliant young woman who could have had a glittering academic career.

For Sophy's death was not a unique tragedy. How often have we heard of some person taking their own life because their pleas for help were not answered or in many cases properly recognised. Mental health problems do not take account of status, age or gender. But we must take account of the terrible toll that can ensue and make sure practical help is available when needed.

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