Maria Walsh MEP responds to calls for radical overhaul of the entire mental health system in Ireland

MEP Walsh authored the European Parliament’s first report around mental health and received overwhelming support when she brought it before Parliament in July

Midlands-North-West MEP Maria Walsh has, this afternoon, responded to calls for a radical overhaul of the entire mental health system in Ireland, describing the situation as “life and death”. MEP Walsh, who authored the European Parliament’s first report around mental health earlier this summer, stressed that the mental health of citizens, both in Ireland and at European level, should be at the top of the agenda. “At Government level here in Ireland, and also on the European stage, we must work together to tackle mental health issues. Early intervention is key and the mental health of citizens should be at the core of our work. This isn’t about lip service – this is life and death,” she said. 

Walsh was responding to comments made by President of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland and Mater Consultant Psychiatrist, Dr William Flannery, on Newstalk this morning. Dr Flannery warned that Government failings on mental health are putting patients’ lives at risk and that a radical overhaul of the entire system is needed as an urgent priority. 

“The people of Ireland deserve better. Earlier this year, the College of Psychiatrists reported that the HSE’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) was limping along with 72 teams, when 130 are required for our population. Of the existing CAMHS facilities, only half had the level of staff required. Reform plans for CAMHS were laid out as far back as 2006 but were not implemented. The time for small talk is over. This isn’t about votes or political swipes, we’re talking about life and death here,” warned MEP Walsh. 

“Suicide is the second-highest cause of death of EU citizens under the age of 19, with approximately 1,200 children and young people in Europe between the ages of 10 and 19 taking their own lives every year.”

When first elected an MEP, Walsh’s main priority was to encourage the Parliament to focus on mental health and make it a priority within the European Union. The west of Ireland MEP led the first report dedicated to mental health in Parliament and received overwhelming support in early July for her report entitled ‘Mental Health in the Digital World of Work’. 

The report called for updated EU legislation to ensure collective EU mental health policies are in place. It also called on the Commission to propose a legislative initiative on the management of psychosocial risks and well-being at work. As well, Walsh proposed that 2023 be the EU Year dedicated to Mental Health, to raise awareness of all aspects of mental health policy. 

In bringing the Report before Parliament, Walsh called on the European Commission to create a comprehensive EU mental health strategy and a legislative framework to establish minimum requirements for teleworking across the EU. In addition, she asked that Member States and the Commission include measures to address mental health in their health crisis and pandemic emergency response and preparedness plans. The report noted that the pandemic saw politicians and governments protecting the physical health of citizens. “We need to see mental health tackled with the same urgency,” she stressed. 

While the report was largely focused on teleworking, according to Walsh, this is only just the beginning. “With the report, we are responding to the realities of teleworking and the opportunities it represents, to ensure work-life balance and well-being in the digital area. The report illustrates the benefits and risks of digitalisation that society has experienced over the past two years,” she said. 

“It is essential that current EU legislation is updated to respond to the new realities of the digital way of working. We need to ensure that collective EU mental health policies are put in place. The pandemic has resulted in the sharing of best practices between Member States and it is essential that we now use this information collectively at EU level,” Walsh added.