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New 10 Year Mental Health Strategy Published

Health Minister Robin Swann today launched the new Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031, setting the strategic direction for mental health in Northern Ireland for the next decade. 

Launching the new strategy in an Oral statement to the Assembly, Minister Swann said:  “The Strategy is built on a vision of a society which promotes emotional wellbeing and positive mental health for everyone, which supports recovery and seeks to reduce stigma and mental health inequalities. In the vision we set out the objective of a system that is consistent and provides equity of service. We also want to break down barriers so that individuals and their needs are right at the centre – a truly person centred care.”

The Strategy consists of 35 actions across three themes:

  • Theme 1: Promoting mental wellbeing resilience and good mental health across society – focussed on promotion, resilience and additional support across various parts of a person’s life, and actions around additional therapy hubs support and support for carers in mental health settings.
  • Theme 2: Providing the right support at the right time – focussed on the delivery of services, to ensure people who need support receive the support they need, when they need it. 
  • Theme 3: New ways of working – focussed on the systems around mental health services, such as the creation of a single mental health service, digital mental health, workforce, data and outcomes and innovation and research.

The Strategy is published alongside a Mental Health Funding Plan designed to identify the costs associated with developing, establishing and maintaining the services set out in the Strategy actions. The Funding Plan identifies an estimated investment need of in the region of £112m to £158m revenue funding year on year and circa £285m capital one-off investment.

Minister Swann commented: “Addressing the current challenges through the actions in the Strategy is dependent on the availability of significantly increase and sustained funding.

“The Funding Plan has identified an investment need of £1.2bn over the next 10 years to fully implement the Strategy. This is a significant investment need and clearly something that I cannot fund from within existing Departmental budgets. It will require a collective effort to bring about the much-needed reform of mental health services.”

Acknowledging the inputs of all those who supported the development of the Strategy, Minister Swann said: “The Strategy is the result of genuine co-production. Over the last year hundreds of people have been involved in meetings, through workshops, at online events and through direct communication with my officials on how we can ensure we have mental health services fit for the future.

“This includes service users, carers, professionals, community and voluntary sector groups and many others. Without your support, the work to develop the Strategy would not be possible and I want to extend a huge thank you to all of you who have been involved.”

The implementation of the Strategy will be co-ordinated and led by the Department of Health and the implementation leads will vary between the Department, the HSC Board, PHA, HSC Trusts and the community and voluntary sector.

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Better Gets Belfast Active with Free Fitness Tests and Memberships

A programme of free fitness assessments and gym memberships has launched at Better leisure centres across Belfast in a bid to get the city moving.

The initiative entitles members of the public to a fitness test and score, personalised workout plan and free month-long membership to be used across the 14 Better leisure centres in the city.

A state-of-the-art concept in fitness management, FitQuest provides an easy-to-understand measure of key metrics such as BMI (Body Mass Index), hydration levels and muscle percentage which will be mailed directly to the participant’s private inbox.

Individuals are encouraged to visit one of the four FitQuest kiosks at Andersonstown, Lisnasharragh, Better Gym Belfast and Olympia Leisure Centres for the confidential assessment.

Whether the recommendations be weight loss, muscle strength or cardiovascular fitness, a team of professional fitness instructors will provide a tailored workout plan and free four-week membership to allow them to build on their results.

Participants can then return for a further FitQuest test to track their progress and kickstart their journey to a healthier, more active lifestyle.

GLL, which runs the centres, hopes the initiative will empower the people of Belfast to improve their health and happiness through physical activity. A charitable social enterprise that exists to promote better health, it will welcome 500 individuals via the limited scheme. The first 100 places will be reserved for health service staff to encourage a focus on personal physical and mental health.

Belfast Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Nicholl visited Better Gym Belfast to take the inaugural fitness test. The £15,000 initiative is supported by Belfast City Council through the Leisure Transformation Programme.

Speaking following her FitQuest challenge at Better Gym Belfast, Lord Mayor Councillor Kate Nicholl said:

“Improving the health and wellbeing of our citizens lies at the heart of Belfast City Council’s £105m Leisure Transformation Programme. With 14 leisure centres across the city, including brand new state-of-the-art gyms and swimming pools at Lisnasharragh and Andersonstown, Belfast is not without the resources or capacity to boost public health through physical activity.”

“While we envisage a city where people are active and committed to living a healthy lifestyle, a lot must be done to make this a way of life for everyone, particularly those living on the lowest incomes. The FitQuest initiative is an investment in this vision and I hope that it will help kickstart many people’s journeys towards more active and healthier lifestyles.”

Regional Director of GLL Gareth Kirk said:

“We at Better exist to make communities happier and healthier through the provision of inclusive, accessible and affordable leisure services. As a charitable social enterprise, we are thrilled to be offering free fitness assessments and citywide memberships as local people continue to battle the physical and emotional hangover of the global pandemic. There are no limits to the benefits of living an active lifestyle and we look forward to seeing hundreds of individuals come through our doors and begin their journey to a better lifestyle.”

Visit to sign up for the Belfast fitness challenge.

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Mental Health Champion of Northern Ireland Appointed

1. Siobhan O’Neill is a Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, and the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland. Her research programmes focus on trauma, mental illness and suicidal behaviour in Northern Ireland, and the transgenerational transmission of trauma.

Following a recent external recruitment process, Health Minister Robin Swann has appointed Professor Siobhan O’Neill as the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland.

Professor O’Neill is the current Interim Mental Health Champion and Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University. She is one of Northern Ireland’s leading experts in the field of mental health, known for her active and passionate involvement in suicide prevention. 

Making the announcement Minister Swann said: “The mental health and wellbeing of our population is a priority which has been further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Appointing a Mental Health Champion is another key step to ensuring those suffering from mental ill health will have access to the services they need, when they need them.  I am delighted that Professor O’Neill has agreed to continue her crucial work that she started as Interim Mental Health Champion.”

During her time as Interim Mental Health Champion, Professor O’Neill has been an advocate for mental health at both public and governmental levels.  She led a mental health and wellness campaign throughout the winter pandemic restrictions and has been an advisor to the Department of Health and Executive colleagues on the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Minister continued: “I recently announced a new 10-year Mental Health Strategy setting out the future strategic direction of mental health services in Northern Ireland.  I want to break down barriers and put individuals and their needs at the centre of what we do.  The appointment of a long term Mental Health Champion underpins the provision of a voice for the most vulnerable in our society and across government now and in the future.”

Professor O’Neill said: “I am delighted to continue as the Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland, so that the voices of those who struggle with their mental health are heard, and that their voices influence policy and practice to ensure that good mental health and wellbeing is a priority across Government Departments. 

“The 10-year Mental Health Strategy is a positive step in improving mental health services and demonstrates why mental health must be a key priority for Northern Ireland. I look forward to continuing my work with Minister Swann, the Executive, those with lived experience of mental ill health and those who provide services on the ground, to ensure that the actions laid out in the strategy are delivered to help Northern Ireland to flourish as we recover from the current pandemic and into the future.”

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