Voters in Northern Ireland head to the polls once again next week for an unprecedented fifth time in a year. Whilst much of the debate during the campaign has understandably been focussed on the impact of Brexit and the continuing stalemate at Stormont, there has been less media focus on the day-to-day issues that matter to people’s lives, including mental health.
Evidence suggests that levels of poor mental health are in the upper end of the international scale within Northern Ireland, as a legacy of the trauma of conflict and higher levels of social deprivation. However, there is a longstanding dislocation between the level of need and the funding required to address this challenge. Whilst Northern Ireland continues to a 25% higher overall prevalence of mental health problems than England, our health system spends 7-16% less than England on addressing health and social care need.
Health has been a devolved matter since 1999, and not seemingly relevant to these Westminster Elections, however, a scan through the Manifestos of each of the parties demonstrates some recognition of the challenge. For example, manifesto documents from DUP, Sinn Féin, UUP, SDLP and Alliance broadly talk about the need to improve funding and focus on mental health overall, but there is very little on the critical role that counselling plays in helping address significant demand for mental health support.
This election provides a critical platform to ensure that the voice of counselling and psychotherapy is heard loud and clear by decision makers to ensure the counselling professions in Northern Ireland obtain the support and protection they deserve.
As we head into the final week, all the Candidates will be frantically visiting doorsteps, holding rallies, or at hustings events in constituencies across Northern Ireland. It would be good to use this opportunity to advocate for the critical benefits of counselling, as well as encouraging friends and family to ask candidates what their party will do to protect and increase access to counselling services.
With our collective voice, we can encourage MPs elected in Northern Ireland to lobby Westminster with the message that counselling changes lives.