Check This Before Voting: What Every Party's Manifesto Has To Say About Mental Health
It's not being discussed on the big debates, but it's a crucial issue – so we took a look to see what's being proposed by each party
The lack of talk surrounding mental health in this campaign has come in for quite a bit of criticism – and the fact that it featured on neither leaders' debate was as ridiculous as it was sadly predictable.
And while it may be dismissed as a peripheral issue, the reality for so many thousands of Irish people is very different: this is something that needs to take centre-stage.
So in the absence of discussion around this topic, we've pulled together a quick and concise guide to what the main parties have to say on mental health – focusing on sections of the manifestos dedicated to this particular topic.
How much did they all have to say?
While volume is no indicator of quality, they do provide an indication as to how much of a focus each party has on the topic – so we took a look at the word count of each party's dedicated mental health section.
This graph shows just how wildly they differed...
And what did they have to say?
Well, here we go. Party-by-party...
Words in mental health section: 260
In three words: Vague, unfocused, worrying
- The primary party of Government lead their mental health section with a boast – that they have increased the budget for mental health by 20% to €160m;
- However, the manifesto is seriously light on detail and heavy on vague proposals – such as extending primary care counselling to "more people" and "supporting mental health recovery by offering follow-up training and booster self-help courses";
- Overall, the manifesto shows little in the way of a focused mental health strategy – a worrying prospect from the party most likely to lead the next Government.
Words in mental health section: 215
In three words: Direct, tactical, non-strategic
- The Labour Party's manifesto does a bit better when it comes to the finer details;
- It promises to extend counselling in primary care service to all 16-25-year-olds upon completion of eMental Health courses (subject to a GP's recommendation);
- It also suggests a dual approach to addiction and mental health, via the appointment of a new HSE National Director for Alcohol and Addiction;
- Beyond this, a registration system for practising counsellors, therapists and psychologists is outlined, but not explained;
- Better than their Government partners, and slightly less vague, but highly tactical with very little coherent strategy visible.
Words in mental health section: 446
In three words: Radical, specific, coherent
- One of the more impressive manifestos where mental health is concerned, the Fianna Fáil proposals are centred around a simple but important concept: the establishment of a new statutory National Mental Health Authority;
- This is based on the success of the National Road Safety Authority and its success in tackling "the spike in road fatalities that endangered a generation of motorists";
- The Authority would be "charged with leading an all-out national programme to promote positive attitudes to mental health and to reduce the incidence of self-harm and suicide";
- The party is also highly specific in its financial approach, stating that it has "earmarked total additional funding of €187.5m for increased spending on mental health";
- While it could be said that Fianna Fáíl is kicking the problem to touch by proposing a new state body – or quango, if you want to be cynical about it – this is perhaps the manifesto that suggests the most coherent and focused solution.
Words in mental health section: 87
In three words: Shamefully short; lost.
- Starts with "we will increase the mental health budget" and doesn't get much more detailed from there on;
- A paltry 87 words in six points, lost in the middle of a 58-page document, that's so short and light on information that we might as well just paste it below in full for you to read;
- While the topic is alluded to throughout the document, this lack of focus is a huge oversight – and a really disappointing one – from a party that's normally quick to show itself as being in touch with the people of this country.
Words in mental health section: 874
In three words: Comprehensive, modern, uncosted
- The new party dedicate two full pages to the issue – covering just shy of a thousand words in the process, 10 times the length of Sinn Féin's equivalent section (despite the documents being approximately the same length);
- It's not all waffle either, though it does rely heavily on the Vision For Change framework – committing to full implementation of this 2006 strategy;
- Describes a need for a proactive approach towards suicide prevention and mental health in general, as well as increased responsiveness towards those at risk;
- Other focus points include a broader approach to the treatment of mental health issues, to include approaches such as CBT and mindfulness, as well as making a clearer distinction between addiction and mental health services;
- It's not costed, which is a shame – but it looks to be the most comprehensive and modern of the bunch, offering a highly detailed insight into how they intend to work through this issue.
Words in mental health section: n/a (but 132 under 'health' section)
In three words: Scattered, incomplete, limited
- Disappointingly, there's no single section focusing on mental health in the manifesto of People Before Profit, who are contesting this election alongside the Anti-Austerity Alliance;
- The topic is, however, covered under three other sections: drugs, health and LGBT;
- Most of the detail focused on child mental health, with a proposal to increase spending on this to 25% of the mental health budget (which in turn is promised an increase in funding);
- A key specific point is in relation to what the party calls the "over-reliance on prescribing drugs in the mental health service" – it suggests this be tackled with "access to alternatives such as Social Support, Occupational Therapy, Psychotherapy and access to art and creative therapies";
- These two focus areas are well covered, but the lack of a self-standing mental health section means there's no overview of the party's plans with regard to this issue.
Words in mental health section: 309
In three words: Snappy, detailed, passable
- This is spearheaded by a six-point plan that doesn't quite offer the same level of detail as Fianna Fáil's or the Social Democrats', but focuses on some key areas – such as the admission of children to adult wards, the availability of counselling in primary care to those on low incomes;
- The only party to allude to the issue of those with mental disabilities and work, stating its aim to "reduce the proportion of people with a mental health disability outside the labour force";
- Proposes an increase of the health budget spent on mental health to 7%, and a "systemic intervention" amongst young people to teach them how to deal with health issues from an early age;
- Sufficiently detailed, and does give the impression of a clear vision for dealing with this topic.
Words in mental health section: 272
In three words: Organised, original, unclear
- Places the Vision For Change strategy under the sole custody of the Department of Health, while advocating more information for patients about available treatments and "hospital admission as a last resort";
- Like Labour, it advocates increased regulation of the psychotherapy, counselling and psychology services – in this case, by a body "similar to the Teaching Council";
- Also advocates the appointments of a Mental Health Promotion Officer to schools – though is unclear as to whether this would sit with the Health or Education department;
- Like others, proposes a nationwide implementation of the SCAN crisis response service for people at risk of suicide;
- Specific on figures, pledging an additional €35m per annum to the mental health budget.
- Independent Alliance and Independents 4 Change are described as alliances as opposed to parties, and thus are not covered here;
- The above information was focused squarely upon sections of the manifesto dedicated to or titled as Mental Health – almost all manifestos allude to the topic under different sections, but the purpose of this exercise was to examine the focused approach of each party.
Additional research by Evan O'Gorman