Speech by Mr. Tim O’Malley T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the launch of Schizophrenia Ireland’s research – “Talking about Choice”,

I am delighted to have been invited here this evening to mark Lucia Week – Schizophrenia Ireland’s national awareness week – with the launch of the results of research undertaken by UCD on behalf of Schizophrenia Ireland (SI). I understand that this survey entitled “Talking about Choice: Developing the dialogue for individual recovery and partnership” is SI’s second survey of service users’ experiences of the type and quality of the mental health services they received.

The findings from this survey confirm service users’ views in relation to the present state of the mental health services and how they should be developed in the future. The necessity of involving service users and their carers in all aspects of service delivery is a key message for all of us.

One of the fundamental findings of the survey is the importance to service users of the concept of ‘recovery’, in the sense that people with mental illness can and should be facilitated in reclaiming their lives and becoming involved in society – i.e., to be ‘socially included’. To achieve this, people need supportive mental health services, but they also need supportive communities where actions are taken to address basic needs such as housing, employment and education.

A modern healthcare system accepts that each person must play a central role in their own treatment and recovery. It recognises that each individual plays a critical and essential role in the assessment of their own needs and that quality of care is inextricably linked to the involvement of the user in determining their health care.

There is a growing awareness among service providers that establishing a good quality of life for patients requires their involvement in the planning of the services that are important to them and which support their choices. The perspective of the patient and their families needs to be understood and appreciated. This vision requires that mental health services be characterised and led by a partnership between all stakeholders. A comprehensive mental health care system requires that services at all levels – from community support groups, to voluntary groups, to primary care, to specialist mental health services – work in an integrated, coordinated fashion for the benefit of all people with mental health difficulties.

I am aware that Schizophrenia Ireland has been active for many years in creating a more tolerant attitude to mental illness in Ireland. The organisation is committed to the best quality service for its members. Many of the services provided by the Association are run in close co-operation with statutory mental health services and with the support and backing of the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive.

Schizophrenia Ireland has contributed to the significant changes which have taken place in the delivery of mental health services throughout the country. I am sure you are aware that Mr. John Saunders, Director of Schizophrenia Ireland, was a member of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy and I am certain his knowledge and experience was of great value to the group. I also understand that some of your members contributed to the work of the advisory subgroup on rehabilitation psychiatry. Again, this helped to inform the work of the Expert Group.

Choice, recovery and partnership are all values and principles enshrined in “A Vision for Change” – the Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy. This report is the first comprehensive review of mental health policy since Planning for the Future was published in 1984. It 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.

This policy envisions an active, flexible and community-based mental health service where the need for hospital admission will be greatly reduced. On that basis, it is recommended that steps be taken to bring about the closure of all the remaining psychiatric hospitals which are a legacy of a bygone age and to re-invest the resources released by these closures in the mental health services.

The Expert Group has indicated in this report that Community Mental Health Teams should be the cornerstone of mental health service delivery. It has recommended that well-trained, fully staffed, community-based, multidisciplinary teams be put in place in all services, providing mental health care across the individual’s lifespan, from childhood to old age.

In order to provide an effective community-based mental health service these teams should provide multidisciplinary home-based and assertive outreach care. A comprehensive range of medical, psychological and social therapies relevant to the needs of the individual service user and their families and carers should also be available.

The goal of mental health promotion is the enhancement of potential, i.e. building psychological strengths and resilience, rather than focusing on reducing disorders. I see it as a key task of the health services not just to treat mental illness but more importantly, using the principles of health promotion, to try and improve the mental health of the population at large.

To date, 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.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you all for the warm welcome that I have received here this evening. It is always nice to attend a local event and see so many familiar faces. Schizophrenia Ireland already plays and, I am confident, will continue to play a major role in educating public opinion about mental illness and in addressing the needs of all those affected by schizophrenia and related illnesses. I believe that the services it provides are of real practical value to the many families affected by mental illness.

Finally, I would like to stress the Government’s commitment to the development of services for those suffering from mental illness. I am confident that we can build on the substantial progress to date so that we can all work together to bring about a mental health service worthy of the Ireland of the 21st century.

Thank you