NI parties urged to support 'mental health champion'
The Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland has called on all political parties to support a move to appoint a mental health champion.
In a pre-election manifesto, the college said such an appointment would provide a clear voice of support to implement a mental health strategy.
It also asked parties to give the issue a "specific political focus" ahead of the assembly poll on 2 March.
It is estimated that one in five people in NI have a mental health problem.
In fact, with referral numbers increasing, mental health charities say funding has not matched the numbers seeking help.
The chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, Dr Gerry Lynch, said the legacy of the Troubles had contributed to a "serious mental health crisis" in Northern Ireland.
"It is estimated that the prevalence of mental health problems in Northern Ireland is 25% higher than that in England and we also have the highest general population suicide rate within the UK", he said.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists' election manifesto contains 'five asks', the first of which is the appointment of a mental health champion.
It also calls for sufficient funding for patients' needs; legislative reform and the provision of multidisciplinary, evidence-based care for patients with severe mental illness.
The fifth request is the introduction of a minimum price of 50p per unit for alcohol.
Dr Lynch added: "The feedback we are getting from our members is that there is a sense of drift within mental health, together with a lack of clarity as to where mental health service provision and planning is heading in Northern Ireland.
"There is an urgent need to put mental health at the core of our health and social care system and we are calling on political parties to support fully and implement the demands within our manifesto."