Opinion – Mental Health: What the General Election Failed to Address

Behind all the debating and bickering surrounding arguably, the tightest and fiercest contested general election in decades, are the multitude of crises facing the new government.

Housing, public services (health, education, public transport, etc.), and Brexit, among other issues, were brought to the fore.

However, there was one very important topic which seemed to barely make a dent through all the political and societal fog – mental health.

On the Campaign Trail

While mental health did come to the fore occasionally at local level, its exposure on the national stage appeared to be much more muted.

However, one notable exception did come early in the campaign through Sinn Féin, who at a launch in county Cork, pledged to recruit 2,000 additional mental health staff, and to increase the number of Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Community Mental Health teams, as well as promising to prioritise 24/7 crisis services.

TV Debates

While all three major political parties (Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and Sinn Féin respectively) do cover mental health in their election manifestos, albeit to varying degrees of detail, the topic appears to barely have come through in the televised debates, held throughout the near four-week election campaign.

Health in general, did not even feature as a topic of discussion during the Claire Byrne Live Election Debate, held in NUI Galway, which was a major shock given that is considered one of the great crises of modern Irish society.

The seven party leaders during the Claire Byrne Live debate at NUI Galway
Source: RTÉ

Mental health did get coverage, however, during the Virgin Media Leaders’ Debate three nights later, but mainly in an attempt to attack the Labour Party about how the mental health budget was raided in 2012 to bail out a financially crippled HSE, while Labour were in coalition with Fine Gael.

It became the only occasion where mental health prominently appeared as a topic of discussion, during a televised debate throughout the entire election campaign.


Groups such as Mental Health Reform, have been calling out for changes to the mental health budget, which according to their own General Election manifesto, has “suffered from years of significant under-investment, staffing shortages and access difficulties.”

Alarmingly, as of February 2020, mental health makes up only 6% of the HSE’s overall health budget.

Mental Health’s Place in Irish Society

The critical thing, and the most overlooked element relating to mental health in Ireland today, is that behind the three great crises of our time – health, housing, and education, inadequate mental health services is intrinsically linked to all three.

A government, no matter what parties it eventually constitutes, have to make it an urgent priority to not only increase the capability of the health service to alleviate the crisis surrounding mental health, while also addressing the individual causes as to prevent any further escalation of the mental crisis in Ireland – something that the major political parties have failed to address in an adequate fashion.

Mental health in and of itself is not an illness facing the country, but is among a never-ending list of symptoms of an ailing Ireland, which is playing out in a frighteningly similar fashion as our A&E departments are these days; laying on a hospital bed, endlessly and desperately waiting for someone to come and save it.

Whether that help will come in the form of the 33rd Dáil, however, remains to be seen.

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