Mental health was the health issue raised most with me during the election campaign in Wexford. Problems with mental health are not confined to Wexford but the county did have the highest suicide rate in Ireland in 2015. That is not unrelated to the fact that Wexford has the third highest level of deprivation in the country or that the HSE deals abysmally badly with the problem there. A person who is feeling suicidal or has any form of mental illness in Wexford after 5 p.m. or at the weekend has serious problems trying to get help. The person will eventually end up at an accident and emergency department in Waterford where he or she might get a referral and get some professional help or a space in the unit in Waterford.
We now hear that the HSE might want to cut one-third of the ring-fenced money from the mental health budget. This did not start overnight. In the 1980s, 13% of the health budget was spent on mental health services but in 2015 it was 6.2%. In 2010, the year that Wexford and Waterford mental health services amalgamated and all acute beds were moved to Waterford, the suicide rate in Waterford was 11.5 per 100,000, while the rate in Wexford was 11. The following year, the rate in Wexford had almost doubled to 20 per 100,000 and Waterford's had remained steady. Wexford has had roughly double the suicide rate of Waterford ever since. New figures from the Central Statistics Office show that Wexford now has the highest suicide rate per capita in the country. It would be hard to find a more striking example of what cuts in this area of the health service can do. They literally kill people.
I am not advocating that we reopen units such as St. Senan's in Enniscorthy. However, when it was closed, next to nothing was put in place to fill the gap.
A serious national conversation and re-evaluation needs to take place about how the State provides mental health care and how we understand mental health issues. We need to look at models that work for people and help them lead healthy and productive lives in the community. We need to take away the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. Central to facilitating this change is questioning the dominance of the medical model approach to mental health problems, the prevalence of the notion that the pharmaceutical industry can provide us with magic bullets to treat so-called mental illnesses. There is overwhelming evidence that the anti-psychotic and anti-depressant drugs are dangerous if used as a long-term solution to mental health problems and the outcomes for those who receive psychotherapy are much better.
In 2012, the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health met the former assistant State pathologist, Dr. Declan Gilsenan, the psychiatrist, Professor David Healy, and others to discuss the dangers of anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medications. Professor Healy has spent the better part of his career researching the effect of these drugs. He found that pharmaceutical companies are systematically blocking efforts to detect problems, and ghost-writing scientific articles that hide the dangers of new drugs while making it financially attractive for the psychologists and psychotherapists who they see as the real clients of their products to promote and push these products on a public that is not warned of the dangers and have little or no recourse when these professionals prescribe them a substance that has damaging and sometimes fatal effects. However, the warnings of these professionals are being ignored. The number of prescriptions is rising as are the number of people reporting mental health issues and the profits of the pharmaceutical companies.
During the general election campaign I met a woman in a pharmacy in Campile. She was alarmed at the rising level of use of drugs by young people to address mental health problems. She said there was not enough education on the matter and that drugs were seen as a fast-fix solution, but they were not working.
If it was true that the magic bullets worked and we were pursuing the right approach with these revolutionary drugs, should there not be a drop in mental illness problems? The most successful mental health programmes are ones that involve care in the community, psychotherapy and the use of drugs only in extreme cases and on a short-term basis. We need to move to something along these lines and the sooner we re-evaluate where we are going in this area, the sooner we will start to save lives, and improve the quality of lives of these in distress and the lives of those around them.