The World Health Organisation has said Covid-19 could cause a global mental health crisis alongside the physical health crisis it has created.
As a result of necessary restrictions put in place to save lives, there has been an upsurge in people seeking mental health supports and that is likely to continue.
We need to prepare and plan now to deal with the psychological aftermath and additional mental health needs post-Covid-19.
2020 began with a political focus on the unprecedented crisis in mental health. One of the first acts of the new Executive was to form an Executive working group on mental well-being and resilience.
I also have the privilege of chairing the Assembly All Party Working Group on Suicide Prevention, which has consistently called for improvements on suicide prevention measures and strategies to tackle this complex issue.
In the north, we face unparalleled mental health challenges, with some of the highest reported rates of post-traumatic stress disorder in the world, and clear challenges presented by transgenerational trauma in our youth population.
Covid-19 has only added to the mental health challenges our society faces, and indeed will compound them as we understand how multiple traumatic events create particular mental health needs.
As we begin to ease out of the restrictions, it is vital adequate support is in place for both providers and those seeking help, but until a vaccine is found, it means co-existing with the virus and a radical change to our daily lives.
Dedicated regional and all-island plans are needed as a matter of urgency.
Resourced, clear pathways must be developed to deal with an expected mental ill health surge in the wake of Covid-19.
Practical steps include the development of a modern technological mental health response through online appointments, text lines, helplines and tele-mental health services which allow remote access to expert mental health care on much more flexible basis.
Key to this will be ensuring adequate resourcing of community and voluntary mental health services, while guaranteeing high standards and transparent and responsible operation practices.
The additional areas of need are likely to be families recently bereaved from Covid-19 and/or non Covid-19 deaths; survivors of Covid-19; long-term sick; unemployed; struggling business owners; children and young people who have missed months of education/social interaction; older people who were already vulnerable to loneliness and social isolation; essential/key workers and last but not least, our health and social care staff who have experienced trauma on the frontline.
The new mental health action plan is a good start, but needs to be developed to include a dedicated section on addressing Covid-19 and on fully implementing the Suicide Prevention Strategy.
Similarly, the North South Ministerial Council response to Covid-19 must include planning for an all-island approach to mental health.
We need to fund our services properly, end the recruitment crisis and ensure services are available to all people across the island. We need to plan now to develop an all-island mental health system.
The coming months and years present many challenges, but it also presents the opportunity to build the world class mental health service that we deserve.
Órlaithí Flynn is Sinn Fein mental health spokesperson and the Chair of the Assembly All Party Working Group on Suicide Prevention