Address by Mr. Tim O’Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at a HSE South Conference – Young Minds – Children’s Right to Mental Health

I am delighted to be here this morning to open this conference on “Young Minds – Children’s Right to Mental Health” and to mark the launch of “The Clonmel Project” – Mental Health Service needs of Child and Adolescents in the South East. This research project conducted by Maeve Martin, Principal Psychologist with the HSE South in Clonmel, and Professor Alan Carr of UCD’s School of Psychology, is the largest study of its kind to be undertaken in Ireland.

The identification of the mental health needs of children and adolescents and the ways in which these needs can be appropriately addressed is invaluable work. Such data is vital for planning and delivering successful mental health services.

In 2003, the World Health Organisation stated in the Report entitled “Caring for children and adolescents with mental disorders – setting WHO direction” that

“The lack of attention to mental health of children and adolescents may lead to mental disorders with lifelong consequences,…and reduce the capacity of society to be safe and productive”.

The mental health of young people is vital to the creation of healthy societies. The transition from childhood to adulthood is a period during which the individual lays down the foundations for future life. A positive approach to the future is one of the cornerstones of good health. Adolescence is the developmental stage during which individuals grapple with issues of independence and autonomy and when they first begin to establish identities independent of their families.

We are all aware of the pressures on young people such as bullying, emotional distress, addictions, peer pressure and exam pressure. The stresses and pressures associated with every day life combine in many cases with difficulties in coping with significant life events such as bereavement and interpersonal relationship problems.

Children aged up to 18 years make up one quarter of the population of Ireland. To grow and develop as healthy individuals they need safety and security within their families, opportunities to play and learn, and the positive self-esteem that comes from knowing they are valued and cherished by families and friends.

The vast majority of children do not develop mental health problems but at any point in time approximately 2% of children will require specialist mental health expertise. These children experience distressing emotional, behavioural or relationship problems that can hinder learning and social development.

Many factors affect the mental health of children and young people and while the changes which have taken place in Irish society in recent years have, generally speaking, brought considerable benefits to both individuals and the community, social problems continue to exist which affect young people and their families.

The promotion of mental health along with the early detection of mental illness in children and adolescents is of huge importance.

There are many regional initiatives that are currently being run by the Health Service Executive in conjunction with non-statutory organisations, which focus on mental health issues like stress management, depression, stigma reduction and suicide-related matters. These are issues of paramount importance and to which more attention needs to be given if we are to ensure that positive mental health and well being of young people is promoted.

Recent years have seen dramatic changes in both the concept and practice of mental health care delivery. Enormous strides have been made and continue to be made in developing a service, which is comprehensive, community-based and integrated with other health services.

Additional resources have been made available; however problems remain such as the low number of dedicated in-patient child and adolescent beds and the difficulties in the recruitment of qualified staff.

As many of you are aware “A Vision for Change”, which was launched in January last, sets out an exciting vision of the future for mental health care in this country and a framework for action to implement this vision over the next 7 to 10 years.

The Health Service Executive has recently established an Implementation Group to ensure that the recommendations are realised in a timely and coordinated manner. It is chaired by the National Care Group Manager for Mental Health.

In addition, I have established an independent monitoring group to oversee the implementation of the recommendations in the report.

I would like to stress the Government’s commitment to the development of mental health services for children and adolescents. As Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Mental Health, it is my intention to ensure that psychiatric services for children and adolescents, both in-patient and community based, will continue to be prioritised in the coming years.

Today’s conference offers an important opportunity to learn about the findings of the Clonmel Project and hear from Save the Children, the international organisation that puts the health and well-being of all children at the heart of all their activities. I am confident that we can build on progress to date in Ireland and work together to bring about a mental health service worthy of the Ireland of the 21st century.

In conclusion, I wish to thank the Health Service Executive for their invitation to speak to you today and I wish them continued success in creating awareness and providing information on mental health issues. I would also like to commend everyone involved in “The Clonmel Project” and to wish you continued success in the future.