Minister Calls for Mental Health Funding Increase

The budget for mental health should increase in the coming year, Minister of State for Mental Health John Moloney has announced.

Speaking at a conference on counselling services for Travellers in Dublin Castle, the Minister said in the context of a €600 million cut needed at the Department of Health, he would be making a case for increased funding in the mental health area.

And there was also a “rooted level of prejudice” against Travellers that had become the norm in Ireland.

Money would have to be “changed around within the health budget”, he said.

“Quite obviously that will create problems, but at the end of the day dealing with the increased suicide figures this year and dealing with the demands set out in Vision for Change, I have to argue for an increased budget for mental health.”

Speaking at the conference, Mr Moloney compared the stigma around mental health issues to the stigma of alcoholism in the 1960s. His father had been an alcoholic, he said, and the illness had carried a huge stigma and social exclusion. That stigma had been removed and he hoped the stigma around mental health issues could also be removed.

He also told delegates at the conference he had not appreciated the worry in the Traveller community about what would happen to Travellers transferred from institutional care back into community care as part of the Government’s Vision for Change programme. He would have further discussions with the Traveller Counselling Service to see how it might be addressed.

Thomas McCann, manager of the service, which was set up to provide culturally sensitive counselling to the Traveller community, said there was a disproportionate number of Travellers in psychiatric units.

There were also high levels of anxiety and depression within the community with anecdotally high numbers of Travellers on antidepressants. Suicide rates were six times higher than in the settled community and substance abuse had also “exploded”.

There was an identity crisis among young Travellers who sometimes carried shame at being who they were because of negative messages in society. Sexual identity issues were also putting them under pressure.

“Being gay in the Traveller community is a huge issue,” he said.

Low self-esteem and mistrust within the Traveller community was affecting the mental health of Travellers. And there was also a “rooted level of prejudice” against Travellers that had become the norm in Ireland.

Barriers to getting counselling included the cultural taboo of “going outside the family” for help as well as the stigma of mental illness. There was also a lack of culturally sensitive services.

To remove the barriers, a culturally sensitive and appropriate model of counselling needed to be developed.

There needed to be education and awareness within the community about mental health and funding needed to be secured.

The long-term vision was to have a culturally inclusive mental health service, so that a Traveller-specific service would no longer be needed, but at present there was a great need for it, Mr McCann said.

(source: Irish Times)