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  • Senator Sharon Keogan

Senator Sharon Keogan — Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services

Updated: Feb 15, 2023

It is lovely to see Senator Gallagher in the Leader's chair today. In April 2021, there were 2,919 people on the waiting list for child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. Some 18 months later, the number has risen to 4,127. In October 2021, there was just shy of 10,000 children on primary care psychology waiting lists. Many mental health services across the country are only open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most children and young people can only access out-of-hours mental health treatment through hospital emergency departments as most CAMHS do not offer this support. In 2019, the Health Service Executive service plan included a commitment to develop a seven day per week CAMHS but this commitment remains unfulfilled. The Children's Rights Alliance committee recommended that the State take measures to ensure all children under 18 years of age have equitable and timely access to age-appropriate quality mental health treatment and services that are adequately staffed and argued that the State must urgently create a designated pathway to CAMHS for children in care. We are losing our children to suicide and drugs and those who are still with us are battling depression, anxiety and eating disorders. We need the Minister for Health and the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to get together to see what needs to be done. How do we employ and retain the specialists needed? How do we keep community mental health centres open and staffed 24-7? These questions need to be answered and these issues solved. The cost of doing nothing does not bear thinking about.

The Children's Rights Alliance recently published its civil society alternative report in response to the Ireland's combined fifth and sixth report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. A great deal of work went into this document, which gives and in-depth briefing on the current conditions of children in this country across areas such as civil rights and freedoms, family environment and health and welfare. There is a substantial amount of information contained within the report, much more than could ever be touched upon here. I recommend that every elected Member go through it. However, it is the section on child and adolescent mental health that I want to raise today. Approximately one in three young people in Ireland will have experienced some type of mental disorder by the age of 13, with this rate rising to more than one in two by the age of 24 years. Children in care have multiple other experiences that place them at a higher risk of poor mental health. It is of particular concern that, between 2010 and 2020, 49 young people died in State care while 23 died by suicide or from a drug overdose. Those who work in the mental health sector said at the outset of the Covid pandemic and the associated Government lockdowns that the result would be a mental health tsunami that the country was not ready for. These figures show exactly that.

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