Speeches

Address by Mr. Tim O´Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the Opening of the GROW 13th National Conference

Introduction

I would like to thank GROW for inviting me here this morning to officially open this conference – “Keeping the Revolution in Mental Health Going”. It is an excellent opportunity to discuss the recent developments in mental health services in this country. It also enables me to acknowledge and recognise the importance and value of the work of GROW in responding to the needs of a significant number of people in our society.

Background

The World Health Organization tells us that one in four of us is likely to experience mental health problems at some time in our lives. Many of us have suffered depression, psychotic episodes, acute anxiety or stress and we know the personal distress this causes. If we have not suffered any of these difficulties ourselves, we know someone who has. No one is immune to mental health difficulties, so it behoves us all to work together to promote good mental health and to create a positive, caring society. The factors which increase the likelihood of mental breakdown are well known. These include: poverty, unemployment, loneliness, loss of identity, helplessness and hopelessness. These factors are known to contribute to acute mental crises such as depression, stress-related disorders, suicidal feelings or dependency on drugs and/or alcohol.

The positive side of the coin is that we also know the factors which contribute to well-being and recovery from such difficulties. One of the most important of these is friendship, and a sense of belonging. This is one of the areas in which Grow offers so much. I understand that you have a saying which states: “Only you can do it, but you can´t do it alone”. As members of GROW, you don’t have to do it alone, and I believe that the friendship and support offered by GROW is at the heart of the organization’s success.

Self Help

The power of self-help is a critical factor in any healing process. The opportunity to share and discuss one´s fears and emotions within an understanding environment is invaluable and of tremendous solace at a time of crisis. I would like to take this opportunity to commend all the members of GROW on their strength in coming together at regular weekly meetings to offer support and guidance to each other. This sense of sharing along with the provision of support is laudable and is a reflection of the commitment and strong conviction that exists in Irish society to the value of self-help. This conviction is evident in many areas of our society and, in particular, in the voluntary sector which is an integral and vital element of health and social services in this country.

Work of GROW

GROW, which was first established in Ireland over thirty years ago, is one of the largest mutual help organisations in the field of mental health in this country. Since its inception, members of GROW have provided practical help and support to each other through attending weekly self-help meetings at which the 12-step recovery programme is followed. These weekly meetings provide an opportunity for new friendships to develop, breaking-through the isolation which so many people experience in today´s society. The meetings provide encouragement and hope to those coping with a wide variety of mental and psychological illnesses and offer support to members as they develop to their full potential. The work of GROW is constantly expanding and the organisation´s latest development plan aims to make a major contribution towards alleviating the huge difficulties caused by mental illness in general, and stress related mental health problems in particular.

The work of GROW is facilitated by both paid and voluntary workers. I would like to compliment Ruth Barror on her recent appointment to the position of national executive officer. I understand that the number of field workers employed by the organization has increased dramatically in recent months and that GROW is presently recruiting a number of regional executive officers to enhance the professional administrative structure of the organization.

However, I am also aware that unpaid volunteers play a central role in the work of GROW, with recorders and chairpersons working in each self-help group and many GROW members going on to serve in a voluntary capacity on regional and national executive teams. I am particularly impressed with the courage and dignity of the ´Growers´ whose stories were published in the second volume of your book “Soul Survivors” which was launched on Friday, 10th October – World Mental Health Day. The stories certainly attest to the success of the Grow recovery programme.

I would like to re-emphasise the Government´s commitment to encourage, in any way it can, the activities of our many voluntary organisations both at national and local level. The work of GROW is extremely important in promoting a positive attitude in the community towards mental health, in developing greater understanding of mental illness and most importantly, in helping those who have encountered difficulties to grow as confident individuals. Substantial direct funding has been provided directly by the Department of Health and Children to GROW over recent years. GROW also receives funding from the health boards, which have been allocated specific funding to support voluntary organizations in their areas.

Community based services

On a more general note, recent years have seen dramatic changes in both the concept and practice of mental health care delivery in Ireland. 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. The shift in the delivery of services from predominantly hospital-based care to care in the community has undoubtedly enhanced the quality of care for persons with a mental illness.

I am pleased to confirm that there have been a number of significant developments recently within the area of Mental Health policy:

Mental Health Act, 2001

The first of these was the enactment of the Mental Health Act, 2001 in July of that year.

The purpose of the Act is to promote and foster high standards and good practices in the delivery of mental health services and to ensure that the interests of detained persons are protected. The Mental Health Commission, established in April 2002, will be the main vehicle for the implementation of the provisions of the Mental Health Act. As you may know, your national Co-Ordinator, Mr Mike Watts is presently serving on the Commission.

The detailed work programme of the Mental Health Commission is a matter for the Commission itself to determine, in accordance with its statutory functions under the Mental Health Act. However, the Commission has indicated that one of its priorities will be to put in place the structures required for the operation of the Mental Health Tribunals.

The Mental Health Tribunals, operating under the aegis of the Mental Health Commission, will conduct a review of each decision by a consultant psychiatrist to detain a patient on an involuntary basis or to extend the duration of such detention. The review will be independent, automatic and must be completed within 21 days of the detention/extension order being signed. As part of the review process the Mental Health Tribunal will arrange, on behalf of the detained person, for an independent assessment by a consultant psychiatrist and the Commission will also operate a scheme to provide legal aid to patients whose detention is being reviewed by a tribunal.

The Commission´s independent status will be crucial, in driving the agenda for change and modernisation in the Irish mental health services in the coming years.

New National Policy Framework for Mental Health

A second significant development for Mental Health services has been the establishment of a working group to review Mental Health Policy. The National Health Strategy, “Quality and Fairness – A Health System for You”, recognised the need to update mental health policy to take account of recent legislative reform, developments in the care and treatment of mental illness and current best practice. The Strategy gave a commitment that a national policy framework for the further modernisation of the mental health services would be prepared.

I recently announced the establishment of an Expert Group to undertake the task of preparing such a national policy framework for the development of mental health services. All areas of mental health policy and service delivery will be examined by the Group. The Expert Group is chaired by Professor Joyce O’Connor, President of the National College of Ireland. Other members of the Expert Group include representatives of the medical, nursing and paramedical professions, voluntary bodies and mental health service users. The Group has invited written submissions and is expected to complete its work within 18 months.

The mental health services, both statutory and voluntary, have met the challenges of change in recent years with enthusiasm and vigor and I am confident that the further development of our services, in a spirit of partnership between statutory and voluntary bodies, will be approached in the same positive manner.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I would like thank you all for the warm welcome that I have received here today. I pay tribute to everybody involved in the GROW organisation and I believe that the services provided are of real practical value to the many families affected by mental illness.