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September 03, 2019

Addressing mental health problems in Northern Ireland

Addressing mental health problems in Northern Ireland

In 1987, the Enniskillen bombing in Co Fermanagh injured 63 people and killed 11, but it has been revealed that the impact on the survivors’ mental health was not analyzed closely. A study conducted by Ulster University in 2011 found out that Northern Ireland has the highest recorded rate of post-traumatic stress disorder of any studied country in the world. According to official government figures, the region also has the highest suicide rate in the UK or Ireland: there are about 18 suicides per 100,000 people whereas there are 9 suicides in England and 8 in the Republic of Ireland per the same number of people.

IZA World of Labor author Richard Layard says that mental illness accounts for half of all illness up to age 45 in rich countries, making it the most prevalent disease among working-age people. In his article, he notes: “[Mental illness] causes not only massive suffering but also great economic waste, because it is particularly a disease of people of working age. […] The costs are huge. But effective evidence-based treatments are not expensive, and they generate massive savings. In fact, they can more than pay for themselves in savings in the labor market and in physical health care. Dealing with mental health problems is not only an economic imperative but a matter of common humanity.”

Compared to the rest of the UK, public spending on mental health in Northern Ireland is far lower. Just 6% of the health budget in Northern Ireland is spent on mental health, compared to 12% in England. “There is no overarching mental health strategy to drive provision in a systematic manner. There are huge waiting lists for services, and the provision of early intervention services for young people is particularly poor,” Siobhán O’Neill, an academic at Ulster University, commented. “People in Northern Ireland wait longer for treatment for mental illness and their conditions invariably worsen.”

Layard adds: “Mental health problems often make physical health problems worse—typically increasing mortality by 50% for people with the same initial health conditions. So, not surprisingly, mental health problems also add greatly to the cost of physical health care.”

Read Richard Layard’s article The economics of mental health.