There are simple and achievable ways to significantly improve the mental health of people in Northern Ireland. The provision of accessible counselling services is one of them and the first point of access for such services are local GP practices.
But more than 30% of GP practices here are still unable to offer in-house counselling to people, and there is a vast disparity in levels of availability depending on where you live.
What you can do
Explore the regional differences for yourself in the map below, either by Health Trust or by constituency, or by zooming in to street level to see where the most under-served areas are.
Use the map to locate your own GP practice and check if it offers in-house mental health counselling. If it doesn’t, click the button to send an email to your MLAs asking them to do something about it.
If your GP practice does offer counselling, ask your MLAs about the other GP practices in your constituency that don’t.
Show usage guide
Widening the treatment options
Counselling can be an effective treatment option for problems like anxiety and depression. It’s an option often preferred to medication alone, by both patients and GPs alike.
This is particularly important here. NI appears to have one of the highest rates of antidepressant prescription in the world, and the rate is rising year on year.
Years of underspending
Northern Ireland is way behind where it should be. We should be campaigning to ensure the quality of counselling services, not the provision of them. This is underscored by the Department of Health's admission that an alternative route to accessing counselling, through the Trusts’ Primary Care Talking Therapy Hubs, is "unavailable in significant parts of the population".
Spending on mental health here has been hovering at just over 5% for ten years, proportional to the total health budget. But mental health problems are 25% greater in NI than in England which spends over 12% of its total health budget on mental health services.
The Minister for Health Robin Swann is launching a 10-year Mental Health strategy. There is no better time for the Minister to fix the problems with access to counselling. This strategy must make sure that all GP practices are equipped with an in-house counsellor. People also need to know they will be seen in a timely fashion, no longer than 28 days.