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Cuts are devastating mental health services, says report

By Victoria O'Hara

A lack of funding in mental health services in Northern Ireland is a systemic problem that is set to snowball into a "pretty bleak" picture particularly in rural areas, a new report has warned.

The key findings of the research report carried out by experts at Queen's University for Action Mental Health (AMH) found many feel the system fails to treat patients as 'people', rather they are left feeling like problems to be managed or solved.

Now the charity says that the research that took 18 months indicates the need for an mental health "champion".

It found that between 2008 and 2014, actual spend on mental health services by Trusts has been around 25% less than previously proposed. Since Bamford report and Transforming Your Care, funding cutbacks have curtailed progress and will continue. It also found that:

n People living in rural areas have significantly less access to vital mental health services than those living in urban areas.

n There are concerns regarding children and young adult services.

n Carers often feel frustrated that their contribution to the care and recovery of those living with a mental health illness often goes unnoticed by healthcare professionals.

Dr George Wilson, the lead author of the report, said there needed to be greater integration with mental health services.

Calls have now been made for the Department of Health to help find resolutions to current struggles.

Mental health is now regarded as one of the four most significant causes of ill-health and disability in Northern Ireland along with cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease and cancer.

It is estimated that one in five people in Northern Ireland have a mental health problem at any one time. AMH chief executive David Babington said they understood the huge financial difficulties facing the Department of Health but that action was needed to address the problems.

"Financial cutbacks are beginning to have an adverse impact on services across Northern Ireland. We desperately need a functioning government to work for mental health and help organisations like us provide services for people across the region.

"Research from as far back as 2010 found that we spend less than half of England's per capita spend on supporting people with mental health problems and learning disabilities.

"When we look at this in the context of our research (which shows further reduced spending since 2009), the picture is pretty bleak.

"This is all compounded by austerity measures in health and welfare, at a time when the economic crisis is likely to negatively affect mental health in the form of insecurity, anxiety and depression."

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The department is leading work to ensure that resources are directed appropriately, fragmentation of services is reduced, and that the views and experiences of service users inform the future direction of mental health provision in Northern Ireland. We look forward to working with Action Mental Health, other mental health organisations and service users, as we continue to improve services and outcomes for all."

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