Posted 20.05.2020

Disability Action welcome Minister Swann and his Department’s bold commitments to better supporting those experiencing or at risk of experiencing mental ill health. The 38 proposed actions lay out a roadmap that strives to ensure that people can access the support they need, when they need it. 

The inclusion of the COVID-19 Mental Health Response Plan is also to be welcomed. This represents another very clear signal of the importance of addressing the ongoing and potential future impact of the pandemic on our entire community’s mental health.

As the only UK nation not to currently have one, the importance of the commitment now given to publishing a 10 year Mental Health Strategy by December also cannot be overstated. This strategy will be absolutely central to the recovery and resilience of thousands of people moving forward; including those affected by this current pandemic.

Disability Action also welcome Minister’s Swann’s commitment to creation of a Mental Health Champion role (announced 27.04.20) and the Minister’s reiteration in the media today that this role would be to hold all Ministers to account and sit outside Government. The view laid out in the Mental Health Response plan of the champion being ‘a public advocate, consensus builder, network hub and challenger of decisions’ is also something to be applauded.

We very much look forward to seeing this role established in the timescales outlined and respectfully encourage commitment by the NI Executive to best practice recruitment for same.  Specifically we would urge (as a minimum) that criteria for appointment should include that the applicant has personal lived experience of mental ill health.

We are pleased to see outline commitment for Smoothing Transitions between child and adult services, appropriate referrals and the avoidance of that well documented and oft highly detrimental ‘cliff edge’ is something those with mental ill health and their families/ carers have long been calling for.

We also strongly welcome the commitment given to reducing stigma for mental health patients. As the largest single cause of disability in NI, mental ill health is a reality and a reflection of the diversity of our society. Better understanding and acceptance are key to recovery and resilience for us all. 

If these bold, timely and ambitious commitments are to be realised, planning and execution will require cross departmental, cross sector working and the central meaningful involvement of those with lived experience of mental ill health every step of the way. 

Disability Action remain resolute in our commitment to supporting same.