The announcement that €12 million is to be made in cuts to the mental health budget has angered much of the country, but students and young people in particular have reacted vocally. As well as rallying outside Leinster House last week alongside TDs, Senators and activists, students gathered on college campuses across the country and online, sending a clear message to those working inside the Oireachtas.
In a country in which mental health issues have been largely misunderstood, ignored and stigmatised, such widespread opposition to cuts to mental health funding is symbolic of the strides that Ireland has made and, particularly, the understanding that Ireland’s young people have of what mental health means to them and to society. The accompanying social media campaign was designed not only to target the government and call on them to reverse the cuts, but also to encourage people to share their personal stories about what a properly funded mental health service would mean to them. The posts that ensued revealed a widespread understanding of the complexity of mental health. Rather than a black and white distinction between diagnosable issue and perfect health, there was an understanding of the fluid and nuanced ways that our minds work. Mental health was treated, in many ways, like physical health, with compassion and understanding for others and with the knowledge that most of us will need to avail of such services in our lifetimes. The hashtag may have been “#IAmAReason”, but, in being used to support one another, it showed that we, collectively, are the reason.
This campaign has been mature, driven and unifying, in sharp contrast with the internal state of Leinster House. As young people stood outside, symbolising how Ireland had finally arrived at a widespread understanding of the importance of mental health services, the country’s two major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, continued to string out their two-month-long hiatus, leaving the country ungoverned. That these two parties had just committed in the most recent general election to enact “A Vision for Change”, Ireland’s mental health recommendation report from 2006, just proves how far behind they really are.