A Mental Health Champion in Northern Ireland has warned that the increases in the cost of living are putting a huge strain on peoples well-being and are leading to a severe mental health crisis across the country. And while she welcomes any one-off payments to alleviate the financial strains that many households are experiencing, she believes that a long term solution is required in order to stave off more mental health issues and all the problems that these bring to society as a whole. She also pointed out the horrendous proliferation of food banks that have been created as a sign that a sizable proportion of the population are living on the edge.
A Pay Packet Away From Being Left Destitute
In an article on the Belfast Live website, Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill, is quoted speaking at a visit to the Storehouse charity in Belfast city centre, saying:
“Every one of us is only a pay packet away from being left destitute,
“I think the issue is we get a short term reaction, a payment, when what we actually need is a systemic change to reduce inequality in Northern Ireland. We need political leadership, we need an anti-poverty strategy that actually works.
“We need this from the top down, just giving people bits and pieces here and there is not going to change the systems that have led us to this situation. That change can happen.
“It’s a choice, and it’s about political leadership, and poverty initiatives to reduce inequalities. Mental health is determined by social justice issues.
“The cost of living crisis is putting significant pressure on people and it’s affecting their mental health. It’s actually driving people to a suicidal crisis, where they see no hope for the future and no alternative to suicide.
“They’re destitute, they can’t feed their families, they feel like failures – that’s a very toxic combination that can lead people to suicidal crisis. The work we’re seeing here [at Storehouse] is suicide prevention work as well as mental health work.”
Providing Community And Friendship In A Safe Space
And in the same article Stephen McLean from Storehouse is quoted as saying:
“We have definitely seen an increased need. The people we see coming in have overloaded lives, with an inability to think to form a plan, completely high level of stress. We try to decrease that – we provide community, we provide friendship, we try our best to provide relaxed, safe spaces for people to sit if they’re receiving services.
“We have the food shop that provides choice and dignity for people, and the same with our clothes shop, it’s meant to look like a proper clothes shop. Communites and relationships are the things that build resilience.
“There are additional worries during summer, if you have kids on free school meals you’ve got the added pressure of dealing with them during this time. That pressure just adds until people are completely overwhelmed and led to do something drastic, whether that’s suicide or beginning to medicate with drugs or alcohol.
“But hope for us is vital. We extend hope time and time again until the point where we’re maybe tired and a little frustrated. We don’t know when someone’s life could change – we don’t know if it’s something as simple as us providing food and clothes, or a simple layer of compassionate response.”
As we have pointed out in previous blogs we definitely need a strong Executive in Northern Ireland that can make decisions that can benefit the community and businesses within the communities as soon as possible, otherwise the consequences could be very damaging indeed.