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‘Mental health budget should be doubled’

Siobhan O'Neill mental health professor (2)

A mental health expert has voiced the need twice the level of investment that currently exists in NI and insisted there should be a 3-day follow-up of people experiencing a mental health crisis.

Addressing concerns raised by two Derry women about bed shortages in the city, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, Siobhan O’Neill, said the need for a bed would be determined by whether the person has “a mental illness requiring inpatient treatment, and this is thankfully not a common occurrence.”

She added: “The problem happens when there is an acute crisis and families want a person to be hospitalised, and this is where services such as the crisis intervention service work really well. They see the person in a safe, compassionate non-medical environment and can deliver suicide prevention interventions there.

“They would ensure that the person is returned to a place of safety with a plan to address the cause of the crisis, which is often about situational problems such as relationship difficulties and coping strategies, with or without mental illness.

“The Trust also have a 24 hour crisis response service at Altnagelvin hospital and people are usually seen by a community psychiatric nurse (CPN) really quickly. Again they don’t always need, or benefit from hospitalisation.” 

Mental health expert, Ms O’Neill, is calling for a 3-day follow-up of these people, and the delivery of a “suicide-specific” intervention as that will help them address the underlying problems, which also may include treatment for a mental illness.

“This is what I think is missing from the services at present. People present in crisis and then they are put on to a waiting list.

“The suicide rate in NI is high, but relatively stable. To reduce these rates Ms O’Neill has called for the full implementation of the Protect Life 2 suicide prevention strategy, of which there are signs of progress now that a health minister is in place.

“The budget for mental health is about half what it should be, and even this is an underestimate because the nature of mental illness in NI is often more severe and chronic due to trauma and deprivation,” Ms O’Neill explained.

“The Western Trust have led the way in relation to suicide prevention initiatives in NI, and were the first to introduce the interventions that are now being rolled out as part of the regional Zero Suicide programme. People in suicidal crisis should contact Lifeline which provides immediate 24-hour assistance.”

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