Editor's Viewpoint: Mental health of our young needs action
Mental health has always been a Cinderella service in Northern Ireland and in spite of plans to reform the service for children and young people six years ago, less than one penny in every pound spent on healthcare here goes towards tackling the mental health of this sector.
The Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma pulls no punches on the slow rate of progress in implementing the new strategy and her report, Still Waiting, outlines a lengthy list of recommendations on how help for children and young people could be improved.
For it is vital that early indications of mental health problems are dealt with. Around 50% of all adult mental health issues begin by age 14 and 75% by age 18. Never was the encouragement to nip a problem in the bud more aptly directed than in this instance.
As is all too evident in Northern Ireland, mental health problems can lead to tragedy. An inquest yesterday heard how a Lurgan teenager took his own life last year, three days before his 20th birthday. He had ongoing mental health issues caused by bullying from the age of 14 and also had taken to cannabis to ease an ear condition.
While he had been receiving counselling and help from a local mental health team, his mother still felt he had been let down by the system. The Children's Commissioner recognises the sterling work of those delivering mental health services, but points out that they are overstretched in trying to address the scale and complexities of the demand.
Like all health issues, greater funding would make a difference, but she feels the systemic weaknesses in the service could be addressed by more training for GPs in dealing with young people's mental health, the recruitment of mental health experts to GP practices, ensuring easier access to services and greater promotion of good mental health in schools.
Such a holistic approach undoubtedly would make a difference, but the lack of a devolved government at Stormont means there is no Health Minister to ensure such a policy is implemented and driven forward. At a time when the taboo of mental health problems has been broken, the pleas of those in need often go unheeded. The return of devolution is not a panacea, since the Executive was in power for four years after the latest strategy was devised, but it could give greater impetus to improving services.