‘New mental health blueprint needed’ says leader in mental health services

One of the big challenges facing the next mental health minister will be to select a team to devise a new blueprint for mental health services and to ensure community services are resourced, said a leading clinical director in mental health services.

His comments came in the week that acting Health Minister Leo Varakar confirmed that €35m earmarked for the sector will be diverted elsewhere. The last grand plan for mental health was Vision for Change, which, while roundly praised when published in 2006 was not entirely implemented due to budgetary challenges.

Speaking at a UCC Mad Activism in Academia seminar, consultant psychiatrist and clinical director of the Centre for Mental Health Care and Recovery in Bantry, Pat Bracken, said: “We are at an interesting moment as the period of Vision for Change is coming to an end.”

“There are many things in it that were excellent — such as the opening chapters where service users and family were interviewed and where the dignity, respect of patients and the need for communication were highlighted.

“In the future, we need to look at such non-technical needs around mental health as we still operate from a largely medical model than promotes medicine and technology rather than values.”

Dr Bracken is due to retire from his post in June and said one of the challenges facing the medical profession in the years ahead is to “embrace critical analysis”.

“Critical thought is something that a mature profession should be able to engage with.” he said.

Dr Bracken described himself as a “real advocate for community mental health services” but that “we need to set up the services before we take away the beds as people want to come to services when they are in crisis.

“But there have been real positives in community mental health too in recent years. Look at the great work that is being done in Cork by the North Lee crisis team,” he said.

When asked why his service has such a good reputation, he said there was no secret recipe. He said the West Cork services team are “encouraged and felt confident” and a culture has been developed where the team is “open to new ideas” and where “we turn down the loud noise of psychiatry”.

“As for the things that make a difference to mental health recovery: It’s having a job, a good relationship, family and friend support and whether you are using other drugs,” he said. “There is no singular response.”

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