Last week the My World Survey 2 was released, the largest ever study into the mental health of Ireland’s youth. Conducted by the UCD School of Psychology and mental health charity Jigsaw, the survey contained the shocking result that the number of adolescents aged 12 to 19 suffering from severe anxiety has doubled since 2012. The survey also reported a significant increase in severe anxiety among 18 to 25-year olds, up 11% since 2012.

A similar survey was released earlier this year from the Union of Students Ireland (USI). Over 38% of third level students suffer from ‘severe anxiety,’ while over 29% suffer from severe depression. We also know from this report that the peak onset of mental illness occurs between the ages of 18 and 25, and that members of the LGBTQI community are particularly vulnerable.

Clearly our young people are suffering, and more will continue to suffer if this government does not respond and make mental health the top priority that it should be. If we want to have a truly civil and compassionate society in Ireland, these issues must be properly addressed.

The My World Survey 2 reached out to over 19,000 respondents. I’m sure some of these young people will be listening to us today, looking to us as leaders and assessing just how seriously we are taking their suffering. I know that many members of this chamber do take mental health very seriously and do want to legislate for a happier life for these young people. However, I cannot say with any certainty that the last two Fine Gael governments have taken this issue seriously enough.

The mental well-being of our citizens is essential to the well-being of our society, and our country. It is a key foundation that appears to be highly underestimated. What is the point of strong economic growth and record levels of employment if those who make up our economy are suffering mentally?

Of course, this is not an issue that can be resolved over-night. However, there are practical steps this government can take in getting us on the road to a better society that will support our young people, as well as other vulnerable groups, through their challenges with mental health.

In October 2018, myself and other members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Mental Health Care published its Final Report. We made several recommendations in the report but there are three key points which I wish to remind the government of. First, we proposed the setting up of a permanent Mental Health Committee in the Oireachtas. Second, we called for the reinstatement of the National Director for Mental Health in the HSE. And third, we called for a protocol on the use of smart phones and social media, with young people particularly in mind.

The Government needs to take action on these recommendations.

Moreover, I would continue to call on the minister to develop out of hours crisis services for both adults and children.

Alongside how inadequate mental health service provision is affecting our young people, the other aspect of mental health provision that is not spoken about is how the inhumane system is treating asylum seekers in Ireland, some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

Direct Provision was always meant to be a “temporary measure”, a hasty response to an issue that demanded a far better and comprehensive solution. There is nothing temporary about what direct provision has become – in essence, a lengthy period of detention for people who have committed no crime, who have no greater desire other than to live safely without violence and persecution.

Asylum seekers are invisible and excluded from society. The process of separation and exclusion leads to othering of these people and creates a “them” and “us”.

The impacts that this can have when combined with lack of proper access to healthcare – including mental healthcare – are severe.

There is a lack of specific acute service provision for the mental health needs of asylum seekers who have just arrived in the country. Many of these vulnerable people have had to flee persecution and life-threatening situations, which no doubt has left them in need of urgent mental care. Yet they could be waiting years for such assistance from our already overstretched and under-funded mental health system.

Compounding this, the poor living conditions of those in Direct Provision are impacting on their mental health. Many of these people are crammed into small rooms with complete strangers, in isolated areas far from communities. Moreover, access to the job market is restricted and their access to education is very limited – and they are living entirely within a weekly living allowance is only €38.80. Such conditions would take their toll on anyone’s mental health, and we need to implement the necessary supports before it’s too late. People living in direct provision need to be supported to access the community in order to form social and economic ties. We must support the direct provision centres themselves, through ensuring they have access to adequate healthcare facilities.

There is an Irish seanfhocal that says: “mol an oige agus tiocfidh sí,” or praise the youth and it will prosper. If this government truly cares about the future of this country, it will take the necessary steps to support and invest in the well-being of its young people. If it does not act now, it will not be forgotten nor will it be forgiven.