Don’t let the Covid Crisis Become a Mental Health Crisis Help Ensure All GP Practices Offer Timely Access to Mental Health Counselling

Covid has taken a huge toll on our friends, families and communities.

We’ve lost loved ones to the virus while essential workers exhaust themselves trying to keep us safe. We’ve experienced social isolation through periods of lockdown. We’ve struggled to enjoy the warmth of healthy human friendships so vital for our well-being.

As we await the roll-out of the vaccine which will bring relaxation and a measure of respite and hope, our priority must turn to ensuring that the legacy of Covid does not become an enduring mental health crisis.

Covid and Mental Health

There is a simple and achievable way to both protect and significantly improve our mental health: through the provision of accessible counselling services.

Counselling can be an effective treatment option for problems like anxiety and depression. It’s an option often preferred, by patients and health professionals alike, to prescribing medication alone.

This is particularly important in Northern Ireland where we appear to have one of the highest rates of antidepressant prescription in the world, and the rate is rising year on year.

The first point of access for such services are our local GP practices.

In the words of Olivia, a #123GP activist from mid-Ulster:

Just knowing that your GP practice provides a qualified, experienced and appropriately paid counsellor has a cathartic effect in itself, that someone is there if and when needed, instead of having to join the never-ending waiting list for ‘experts”

Counselling: A Postcode Lottery

Unfortunately, accessing counselling services is a postcode lottery.  More than 30% of GP practices are still unable to offer in-house counselling to their patients. In some constituencies, like East Antrim, 100% of GP practices offer counselling. In the West Tyrone constituency, only 40% provide this essential service.
The alternative route to accessing counselling, the Health and Social Care Trusts’ Talking Therapy Hubs, is – according to the Department of Health itself – also “unavailable in significant parts of the population”.

We cannot guarantee the quality of the service if we have not guaranteed equal access to such services.
Covid laid bare the inequalities in our society; it revealed how neglecting our health service left us more vulnerable to the pandemic than we should have been.
We need to learn this lesson. We must work together to ensure that everyone has access to a quality counselling service at primary care level.

An opportunity: 10-year Mental Health Strategy

The Minister for Health Robin Swann is launching a 10-year Mental Health strategy.
There is no better time for 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 need to know they will receive the support they need in a timely fashion, no longer than 28 days.

What You Can Do

Here’s how you can help make sure this support is available to everybody who needs it:

  • Click on the button below to go to online map.  Locate your own GP practice in the map and check if it offers in-house mental health counselling
  • if it doesn’t, click the button on the webpage 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

And don’t forget to follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get regular updates.

Thank you for your continued support!

Click here to go to map ›