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Ailing mental health here a symptom of Troubles and failure to invest 'shameful'

Ex Blair aide urges more cash for services

By Victoria O'Hara

Alastair Campbell, one of Tony Blair's most trusted political aides during his reign as PM, said the failure to invest in mental health in Northern Ireland is "unacceptable and needs to change".

Mr Campbell, a formidable Labour Party spin doctor during the Blair years, has thrown his support behind the Mental Health Summit and said that people in Northern Ireland are being "let down by the failure adequately to tackle one of the long-term legacies of the Troubles".

He was speaking ahead of the event tomorrow which is supported by the charity Action Mental Health. It aims to bring all of the main bodies together to plan a way forward for the future of mental health services.

Mr Campbell, a former journalist who experienced mental health problems when he had a breakdown in the 1980s at the age of 28, is championing the need for crisis care that responds with the same urgency when it comes to emergencies as it does to conditions like cardiac arrest.

"Northern Ireland is a place that is very close to the hearts of all who were part of the Tony Blair team in government," he said.

"I will always defend Tony's premiership and his contribution to a new Northern Ireland is 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."

In a recorded video message set to be aired at the event, 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," he said.

"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."

Those attending the summit - which will involve the launch of the Regress, React, Resolve report - will also encourage the NI Executive to take essential and urgent action.

"One of the legacies from the Troubles is actually a higher level of mental ill health in Northern Ireland compared with other parts of the UK," he added.

Responding to figures that show Northern Ireland has a 25% higher level of mental illness, but also a 26% lower level of investment, he added: "Clearly that is unacceptable and needs to change."

A recent study by Queen's University shows there is also considerable concern about deficiencies in services for children and young adults.

It is estimated that one in five people in Northern Ireland has a mental health problem at any one time, and the region has been noted to have higher levels of mental health problems than anywhere else in the UK or Ireland.

"The Bamford report (a review completed in 2007 on mental health needs in Northern Ireland) set out a workable way forward, but one of the by-products of the 2008 downturn was a lack of funding to implement the Bamford recommendations in full," Mr Campbell said.

"When we look at this in the context of Northern Ireland, with its troubled past and higher levels of anxiety and mental illness, this long-running situation of under-investment in mental health services is out of step with the rest of the UK.

"It must be tackled, and the proposals put forward by Action Mental Health go some way towards addressing the funding and structural problems which remain."

Belfast Telegraph


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