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For #world mental health day Professor Siobhan O’Neill, NI’s Mental Health Champion has written to all Northern Ireland’s political party leaders, to ask them to make clear commitments in their manifestoes, to provide full funding for the new Mental Health Strategy and the Protect Life Suicide Prevention.

Mental ill health, Professor O’Neill says, is a preventable and treatable cause of death and suffering and it is unacceptable that so many people in Northern Ireland are unable to access the treatments and services they need and deserve.

Mental Health Coal Face

We at The Hummingbird Project, based in Portstewart on the North Coast are at the coal face of this crisis. As mental health professionals, all with lived experience of having experienced mental ill health ourselves, we are witnessing an unsettling picture emerging, particularly among the more vulnerable.

The Mental health and Well-being During the COVID-19 Pandemic Report highlights the ‘mental health of women, young people (18-29) and those from more socially disadvantaged backgrounds and those with pre-existing mental health problems have been particularly affected by the pandemic.

These groups need to be prioritised to ensure they receive the support they require. If left unaddressed we will soon have a tsunami on our hands with fatal consequences.

An Unsettling Aftermath

Leigh Carey CEO – The Hummingbird Project

I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing the really unsettling aftermath of the last 18 months and I am seeing and hearing that from so many other people around me.

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard about young people feeling so isolated they feel they have no choice but to take their own life. Or of elderly people having aged exponentially or the stress mothers have faced carrying treble the burden of work, childcare and home schooling.

It’s only now when society is returning to some semblance of normality that people are realising the full impact of the collective trauma we have endured together.

In the grip of Covid we were frightened but also buoyed by a camaraderie, almost a war time spirit that kept us going. As we emerge from one of the most disruptive times in modern history, the adrenaline that comes with fight or flight responses is being replaced with agitation, anxiety and unease.

Reconnecting Socially And Personally

Are we different now? Can we reconnect with all the things we need to do as regards to self-care and socialisation because that’s what gives us purpose, strength, confidence and balance? Are we able to regain momentum from a standing start and are we motivated to do so?

I feel it every day within myself, peers, friends and family that everyone is just that bit more anxious, that our emotional resilience has been frayed and we are all just hoping that things will get better and that somehow, we will be able to put those things back in place that get us out of bed in the morning.

The truth is, to get through these extraordinary circumstances, we have had to neglect many of the things that keep us mentally well for far too long. That plus a Covid imposed inability to access many of the community and medical supports normally available because they had to simply close their doors.

Funding To Handle The Mental Health Crisis Post-Pandemic

As a provider of mental health services, I am witnessing a massive outcry for funding support across the community sector to provide early intervention for those who are struggling with their emotional health and the funding just isn’t there to meet that need.

Early intervention, in my opinion really is the key to the dilemma we are currently in. Why not offer support services that catch people before chronic and critical illness sets in?

Let’s invest in and provide more services like The Hummingbird Project that helps build resilience and empowers individuals to be part of the solution and take responsibility for their own mental health and wellbeing. It seems an obvious and much more effective, less costly solution.

For that reason, I’m adding my voice in support of Professor Siobhan O’Neill’s to persuade the Health Minister Robin Swann and political leaders across the spectrum in NI to do more.

Of course, the recent £10m mental health support fund is welcome but Northern Ireland is unique in that we also endured the additional trauma of the Troubles long before Covid took hold. There are special circumstances here that make us arguably more deserving.

Mental Health – Room For Hope

The effects of the Covid 19 disease on the population’s mental health and well-being will be profound and long-lasting. Data shows increasing rates of suicidal thoughts, especially among young adults as a result of the pandemic however there is also room for hope.

More than ever, we are recognising how important and precious our emotional health is and that it deserves and requires our attention; that in sharing this global trauma, people are genuinely asking each other “how are you?” and don’t expect you to automatically say “fine”.

And after generations of mental health struggles being an issue in the shadows, it is now being considered and discussed at home, in schools, in universities and workplaces.

We want that conversation to keep going and for decision and policy makers to significantly invest in strategies that will not only improve the mental health of citizens in Northern Ireland but enables it to flourish.

At The Hummingbird Project, we will play our part in sharing our knowledge, supporting and providing skills to help everyone refocus their energy on emotional well-being and living life to the full.

To anyone out there who is in pain or are suffering, always remember you are never alone.

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