Mental Health Crisis in Ireland Continues to Intensify

Image Credit: Marcel Strauss via Unsplash

Deputy Features Editor Jordan Feeley examines the current mental health crisis in Ireland by analysing statistics, government responses and measures taken by individuals across the nation to aid the situation.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the mental health crisis in Ireland has dramatically intensified. Whilst the situation before the pandemic was undoubtedly worsening, The Irish Times has reported that the demand for mental health services has increased by 33% between 2020 and 2021. Furthermore, Professor Brendan Kelly of Trinity College Dublin has also found that since the pandemic, one in five of the general Irish population have experienced psychological distress due to “the combined effect of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated restrictions.” Along with this, a report by Noel Baker of The Irish Examiner suggests that suicide is currently the biggest killer of young men under twenty-five in the country, with suicide rates in this age group jumping 46% since 2018.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the mental health crisis in Ireland has dramatically intensified. 

Yet, despite these statistics, a report by TASC (Think-Tank for Action on Social Change) concluded that there is a profound lack of key mental health services in the country, with only 6% of the annual health budget going toward such facilities. This is below the average spending in the United Kingdom which stands at 10%, or the likes of Norway with 13.5% and France with 15%. Yet, as the report contends, 42% of the nation’s population met diagnostic requirements for a psychological disorder, with one in ten adults having attempted suicide.

Due to the increasing demand for mental health facilities, waiting lists continue to soar. For instance, information supplied to The Irish Independent by the Health Service Executive (HSE) illustrates that over 4,300 children who are registered with CAHMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) are currently waiting for mental health services. In the 2024 Budget, the Irish Government announced that the spending toward mental health facilities will increase to €1.3 billion. Yet, as the Department of Health budget allocation is €22.5 billion, the spending on mental health facilities remains near the average, with it being 5.7% in 2024. This also fails to meet the recommendation of the government’s ‘Sláintecare Implementation and Action Plan 2021 to 2023’, which seeks to place mental health funding at 10% of the overall health expenditure. These measures have led the College of Psychiatrists Ireland to describe the budget decision as “a backward step for the provision of mental health treatment” as it will, alongside the lack of a detailed plan for doctor recruitment and  retention, “lead to increased doctor burnout and, ultimately, negative impacts on patients.”

Due to the increasing demand for mental health facilities, waiting lists continue to soar. 

According to Dr. Joseph Duffy, the Chief Executive Officer of Jigsaw, the National Centre for Youth Mental Health, the most common concerns among young people attending Jigsaw’s services in 2022 were anxiety, low mood and sleep changes. Along with a demand for a bigger increase in mental health funding, Dr. Duffy has also emphasised the importance in maintaining and enlarging community-based, primary care services as a means to offer a preventive and early intervention approach to mental difficulties. This is also paired with a demand for a workforce strategy as according to Dr. Duffy, “we simply do not have enough mental health professionals to deliver vital care.”

In the 2020/21 academic year, almost 15,000 college students engaged with the mental health facilities on their campuses. Sarah Hughes, the Mental Health Program Manager of the Union of Students Ireland (USI), has cited the current housing crisis as fundamental to the intensification of psychological distress in young people. In November 2023, the Irish Council for International Students (ICOS) has also published a study which records that 55%  of international students in Ireland had reported that their mental health has suffered as a result of the housing crisis. Additionally, Dr. Jill O’Mahony of the South-East Technological University has also noted that through the housing crisis pushing some to continue living with the likes of their parents, it can impact one’s mental health due to the fact that they feel they have not “quite achieved the status of adulthood and everything that goes with that.”

Ms. Hughes of the USI has also noted that loneliness and social isolation is a major mental health issue in the country, along with the stigma surrounding mental health issues. In 2020, a Stigma Survey conducted by St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services reported that 63% of people believe that being treated for psychological difficulties “is still seen by Irish society as a sign of personal failure.” This stigma has provoked Shine, a national organisation who campaign the rights and empowerment of those affected by mental illnesses, to launch the Green Ribbon campaign. According to Nicola Byrne, the chief executive of Shine, “starting a conversation” on reducing such stigma is the motivation behind the campaign. Ms. Butler also notes that the nation’s stigma surrounding mental health “can induce feelings of loneliness, alienation and inferiority” and to combat this, “[w]e need to encourage a culture where people are not judged or labeled because of their mental health difficulties.” Along with the stigma attached to mental health, discrimination in the nation is also a key cause of its intensification. For instance, the National Suicide Research Foundation founded that members of the Travelling community over the age of fifty have the highest risk of presenting with self-harm in Irish Emergency Departments. According to the study, such mental distress may be “due to discrimination or poor physical health.” The National Traveler MABS (Money Advice & Budgeting Service) also uncovered that 90% of the community agree that mental health issues are common, with 82% being impacted by suicide. As the report notes, these issues become increasingly challenging as experiences “of racism, exclusion and discrimination” remain common.

As the magnitude of the crisis suggests that all communities in the nation are impacted, it is important to speak out, to offer support and to be a figure of guidance for those around us.

As the mental health crisis within the nation continues to intensify, it remains more important than ever to recognise how it is a perpetual, ongoing battle which impacts us all. As the magnitude of the crisis suggests that all communities in the nation are impacted, it is important to speak out, to offer support and to be a figure of guidance for those around us. If you are suffering with psychological difficulty, it is fundamental to uncover the strength to seek aid. Through understanding that there are people around you willing to aid and guide you through your difficulties, recovery can undoubtedly be possible. Do not be afraid to utilize some of the facilities available, such as some of the following helplines:

Aware (1800 80 48 48)

Pieta House (1800 247 247)

Grow (0818 474474)

Bodywhys (01 2107906)

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (1800 77 88 88)

LGBT Ireland (1890 929 539)