Belfast Telegraph

New drive to cut 'shocking' mental health waiting lists in Northern Ireland

Ulster University’s Deirdre Heenan joins Gary Lightbody at the launch of the campaign on mental health in NI
Ulster University’s Deirdre Heenan joins Gary Lightbody at the launch of the campaign on mental health in NI

By Christoper Leebody

Waiting lists for mental health services in Northern Ireland are now 24 times greater than England and Wales combined.

The stark figures emerged as a campaign was launched at Stormont yesterday.

A report by Ulster University warns there is "an urgent and compelling need for a fully costed mental health strategy".

The policy review, launched in conjunction with Action Mental Health, showed that as of March this year approximately 120,000 people of all ages here were waiting over a year for access to health services.

By comparison, in England and Wales combined, approximately 5,000 people were waiting for over 12 months.

The review calls for a 10-year mental health strategy here.

Yesterday, 'Making Parity A Reality' was launched by Ulster University professor Deirdre Heenan and Dr Jennifer Betts, and supported by Action Mental Health chief executive David Babington.

Also present was Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody, who has spoken publicly in the past about his battle with depression and mental illness.

Lightbody said the figures in the report were shocking.

"We've doubled the amount of people that have mental health problems per hundred-thousand with much less facilities to help those people. It is something that needs to be remedied," he said.

"Sports funding is being cut, arts funding is being cut. There are less schools offering a wide range of things for their kids.

"From a young age you should have access to all the things in life that make life enjoyable and it shouldn't just be a grind when you are a kid. We need access to those things for our kids and our nieces and nephews.

"These are the things to bed in deep early on about what makes us happy. We have to show young people that there is joy in the world because there is."

Ulster Unionist MLA Robbie Butler, who sponsored the event, said any party talks to restore the Executive should be putting mental health at the forefront.

He said: "If we look at the mental health rates in Northern Ireland and the levels of suicide, that for me should be enough leverage to get a commitment from all the parties that they are going to put people first genuinely and put party second."

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