A prominent campaigner has said the government must not allow the issue of mental health to “drift away” amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
Philip McTaggart of Mindskills Training and Coaching has urged the government and statutory bodies to “plan ahead” for mental health as the North faces another period of lockdown.
Mr McTaggart said that counselling services have been seriously scaled back due to the pandemic, with users unable to avail of “face-to-face” sessions. His comments come following revelations that four out of the North’s five Health Trusts handed back funding allocated to them for Primary Care Talking Therapies for the 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 period.
“There are so many people now waiting to see a counsellor,” Mr McTaggart said. “If you are trying to get an appointment to see a counsellor you’re having to wait a long period of time, but then the counselling sessions are only lasting six weeks in some cases. Why are they giving the money back?

"Out of a big pot of money the Health Minister Robin Swann only applied for £1.4 million for mental health. Then you have the Trusts handing back money."
Phil said suicide figures were continuing to rise. “You still have people dying by suicide, you still have people who are in mental crisis and are in desperate need of counselling support, and you still have more and more people going to doctors who are now prescribing medication because there’s no other form of help.”
He continued: “There needs to be a policy change to make sure people are given the proper support at the right time. I understand that there is a backlog, and we need to clear that, but people need to be seen within six weeks, and that’s even too long in my book because when a person is in crisis that’s the most dangerous time.”
Mr McTaggart said the Covid-19 pandemic had ‘hidden’ many issues of mental health, but insisted that the government “cannot let the issue of mental health just drift away”.
“Mental health, particularly amongst our young people, is being impacted more now than it ever was because they’re not seeing their friends, and they’re not getting out to do the things they love to do – going to a pictures, going to a dance, and all those things that young people do,” he said. “I’ve said to the Minister that we need to plan.
“When we come out of this – and we will come out of this – there’s a big problem sitting waiting for us if we don’t plan ahead.
“If we don’t have a plan to deal with this then it’s going to overrun us, which it already had before the pandemic hit. We were already above the rate of people dying compared to down South and over in Britain.
“They didn’t know how to deal with it then, that’s why they need people to start planning now. They need to be talking to community organisations and representatives because they’re the people who know what’s going on and hear it day and daily.”
In a bid to help people through these difficult times, Mindskills have distributed thousands of leaflets to homes in Belfast with useful tips for coping with stress and anxiety.
“We’re going to come out the other side of this no matter what happens, so it’s about building a stronger society,” Mr McTaggart said.
For support or for more info about the work that Mindskills do see www.mindskills.training
The Belfast Media Group will make Mindskills’ free ‘Taking Care of Yourself’ leaflet available on our website (belfastmedia.com) in the coming days.