Speaking Points for Minister Moloney at the launch of Youth Connect

I am delighted to be here this morning to launch Youth Connect and to thank Jacinta for her kind invitation to do so. I commend Bodywhys on their foresight and initiative in developing this online support group for teenagers which I believe will provide invaluable assistance to young persons with an eating disorder.

Youth Connect is a natural extension of the Bodywhys Connect service which was launched by one of my predecessors, Tim O’Malley, back in 2002 and will offer an internet support group to teenagers with eating disorders.

This on-line support group will provide the benefits of group support to those teenagers who for whatever reason, are unable or unwilling to physically attend a group meeting.

Body image issues are a major part of any eating disorder and in physical groups, where there are disparities in shapes and sizes, that group dynamic may be affected. I also understand that boys often feel out of place in a group where the majority of the members are female. The development of a specific on line service for eating disorders is therefore innovative and has the advantages that participants are prevented from making physical comparisons and preconceptions.

‘A Vision for Change’– the Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, which was launched in January 2006, provides a framework for action to develop modern, high quality mental health services over a seven to ten year period.

Eating disorder conditions are addressed through child and adolescent psychiatric services and in this regard the HSE has prioritised the development of these services and there has been significant improvements in such services in recent years.

In-patient capacity has more than doubled since 2008 and we now have 30 dedicated child and adolescent beds – 10 in Galway, 12 in Dublin and 8 beds in Cork. Indeed I had the great pleasure last year to officially open the new child and adolescent units at St Stephen’s Hospital Cork and at St Vincent’s Hospital Dublin. In addition, two 20 bed units are under construction at Bessboro, Cork and Merlin Park, Galway. It is anticipated that construction will be completed on both of these developments and the beds commissioned in 2010. Further beds will be provided in the context of the HSE Mental Health Capital Programme.

In providing more child and adolescent beds however, I am conscious that we must take care to ensure that our services do not become imbalanced in favour of in-patient treatment. The capital programme will therefore also provide for community facilities in terms of day hospitals and outpatient clinics. Only those children with the most severe disorders should be admitted as in-patients and when admitted, the aim of the service must be to discharge the child back to their family and ongoing care in the community at the earliest possible date. The establishment of further multi-disciplinary Child and Adolescent Mental Health Teams is therefore a priority for the HSE; at present there are 55 teams in place throughout the country and a further 8 teams are in development.

One of my priorities in 2010 is the elimination of the stigma surrounding mental illness and I take great comfort from the very refreshing attitude of our teenagers who seem far more comfortable than previous generations to talk about their mental health.

Recent mental health awareness campaigns, which I am happy to report were informed by our young people, have encouraged people to talk about their problems – to seek out a friend, a teacher, someone they trust and can open up to if they are feeling down. The letsomeoneknow campaign served to remind us to be more aware of the people around us and be mindful of our own mental health and that of others.

We must I believe make concerted efforts to foster a culture where young people in difficulty, at whatever stage in their lives, do not hesitate to seek help; a culture that recognises the signs and signals of distress and is willing to help, a culture which focuses on developing good coping skills and avoiding harmful practices and a culture which embraces difference and where there is no place for stigma.

Finally I would like to formally launch Youth Connect. I am confident that it will bring much support and comfort to those children with an eating disorder.

Thank you.