Covid 19 has presented many challenges since the inception of lockdown on March 23rd. An uncertain time with unwelcomed anxiety and disappointment that we were apart from friends and family. Although the relaxing of restrictions comes as a welcome relief it begs the question what other obstacles are potentially ahead of us post Covid 19?
Lockdown was never going to be easy for anyone. However, consider the situation presented to someone struggling with mental health. Someone who was just about tethering on the “edge” but holding on due to medication, counselling and social interaction with family and friends. Cue Covid 19, already this safety net is taken away following lockdown and those on the cusp of a mental breakdown find themselves alone , isolated and extremely vulnerable.
Mental health in Northern Ireland has always been an issue underfunded and consequentially ignored. Northern Ireland already has the highest suicide rate in the UK and with Health Minister Robin Swann indicating that he would appoint a Mental Health Champion what happens next? How far will Covid 19 intercept any potential plans to improve mental health provision in Northern Ireland?
One key consequence regarding the future of the health service is the effect lockdown has had on waiting lists. Waiting lists has already been an issue in Northern Ireland for many years with members of the public waiting months even years for appointments. Mix the Coronavirus lockdown into that and the state of waiting times has gotten worse. Mental Health appointments and consultations are now potentially at risk of being affected by the Covid 19 lockdown. Appointments and access to vital Mental Health services are now at risk with delays inevitable. As a result this has a detrimental effect on those who are struggling with mental health problems and unable to obtain vital services that are beneficial to their recovery.
It is completely understandable that when Covid 19 hit we did not know what to expect. However any government recovery package needs to include financial support for mental health services and an increased focus on reducing waiting times. Although Minister Swann has revealed a mental health action plan the question is have we heard it all before? Health Ministers come and go and each one of them have spoken the same rhetoric regarding mental health and how they intend to improve it. Furthermore we have constantly seen representative’s talk about how they support the improvement of mental health services in Northern Ireland but again after all these years there is no major improvement or overhaul of services. For this writer actions speak louder than words and words over the years have been cheap. Time will tell if Robin Swann is serious about reform of our Mental Health Services. Stormont needs to act now and they need to act fast before any plans to reform Mental Health in Northern Ireland sits at the bottom of an ever growing pile of “things to do” following a recession that could cripple our Economy and by then mental health reform will become an afterthought.