AQW 13306/17-22 – Mental Health Support during COVID-19 Lockdown

Mr Patsy McGlone (Mid Ulster): To ask the Minister of Health what additional mental health support is being provided to help people cope with COVID-19 lockdown.

Minister of Health: I am fully aware of the impact lockdown has had on people’s mental health, especially those already suffering from mental illness during Covid-19 restrictions. Since the beginning of the pandemic I have been mindful that the measures that we have needed to impose to control the spread of the virus need to be mitigated as much as possible in order to protect from the effect of restrictions, including self isolation, on people’s daily lives. I have also clearly indicated, along with my Executive colleagues, that mental health is a priority, and that the restrictions will not be kept in place for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

To mitigate the effect of restrictions including self isolation, a mental Health and Resilience Strategic Working group was established to coordinate, support and drive the short, medium and longer term response to the psychological impact of the pandemic.

In acknowledgment of the extra pressure placed on the population’s mental health during the pandemic, I published the Mental Health Action Plan on 19 May. I included a dedicated Covid-19 Mental Health Response Plan. This plan set out the mental health response to the pandemic and outlined specific actions, such as:

public health messaging to support people to look after their mental wellbeing while staying at home, and the provision of updated mental health support and advice on the website;

the development of an online apps library to help and support self-help;

rollout of psychological first aid training to staff and volunteers on the front line;

provision of free Stress Control classes online, which have been available since May and will continue to be available until the end of the year;

bereavement guidance; and

a workforce wellbeing framework and dedicated psychological helplines for front line staff.

This support remains in place as we continue to battle Covid-19 and the impact of the pandemic on our communities’ mental health. A key element of responding to the emerging mental health need resulting from the pandemic is the implementation of the Mental Health Action Plan, including the development of a new Mental Health Strategy. On 21 December 2020, the public consultation was launched on the draft Mental Health Strategy; it will run until 5pm on 26 March 2021.