Stormont called for addressing mental health crisis in Northern Ireland amid warning of ‘devastating losses’ in service improvement plans

Politicians in Northern Ireland are under increasing pressure to create an executive branch amid growing concern for the mental well-being of the population.

The NSPCC called for an urgent, focused effort to protect and support infants and toddlers, whom they called “the hidden victims of the pandemic.”

Meanwhile, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) has warned that the political crisis in Northern Ireland is “taking a devastating toll on plans to improve mental health services”.

Dr Richard Wilson, Chairman of RCPsych Northern Ireland, said: “The absence of a sitting government to make important decisions regarding the future of our mental health services is neither sustainable nor a good situation.”

The organizations have spoken out as concerns grow over mental health and the health service’s ability to keep up with demand as society copes with a deepening cost-of-living crisis amid the global pandemic.

As Northern Ireland emerges from a series of severe lockdowns that have taken a toll on mental health, a growing number of people are now struggling to pay for essentials and are limiting or stopping leisure activities entirely.

Both organizations welcomed the new mental health strategy, which was published last June and set the future of services for the next decade.

The plan highlights that funding the plans over the next 10 years will require an investment of £1.2bn, but there are concerns that efforts to implement the proposals will stall due to issues over the Ministry of Health’s budget.

Dr. Wilson continued: “As doctors are on the front lines, we are already seeing an increase in the number of patients seeking help for mental disorders, especially due to the pandemic.

“We have been working with the Ministry of Health and other stakeholders to develop a strategy based on our patients.

“It is disappointing that these plans have stalled due to the lack of a functioning government in Stormont.

“Our patients are in desperate need of funding to get the strategy approved. We need a collective effort for the mental health of everyone in Northern Ireland.”

Speaking in conjunction with Infant Mental Health Awareness Week, NSPCC’s Caroline Cunningham stressed the need to focus on the well-being of the youngest members of society.

The Infant Mental Health Awareness Week is organized by the Parents and Infants Foundation and this year’s theme is understanding early trauma.

Nearly two out of five children on the Northern Ireland Child Protection Registry were under the age of five during the first year of Covid-19, according to the NSPCC. Ms Cunningham said the full impact of the pandemic on the youngest members of society is not yet clear, but warned that the cost-of-living crisis could make matters worse.

She said: “The NSPCC is increasingly concerned that babies are the hidden victims of the pandemic, but unfortunately in Northern Ireland, with no new chief executive on the horizon, the long-term planning needed to address this issue is not possible.

“Infants and infants are particularly vulnerable to abuse and neglect, and the negative effects of trauma on the development of a young child can be very serious.

“The impact of many additional stresses on families, including the cost of living crisis, the growing body of evidence on how poverty affects children, and the impact of the pandemic, means we need a government with increased focus and ability to invest in prevention and early intervention.”

Anyone with concerns about a child can contact the NSPCC hotline and speak with a counselor on 0808 800 5000 or email [email protected]