Is it just me, or does anyone else look at the government's 10-year plan for mental health and hope they're not just looking at it as an isolated issue?
As a country, we have come a long way in a decade. I once heard comedian PJ Gallagher say that there was no such thing as mental health in the 1980s. He says: "You were either mental, or you had health". Particularly in the last few years, I feel like it's something people feel more comfortable talking about.
You catch snippets of people's conversations on the street and you might hear the word 'therapist' or 'anxiety' bandied about, with zero shame attached. The stigma is definitely reduced, but it doesn't seem to be improving the bottom-line numbers of how many people access mental-health resources or, shockingly, the number of people we lose to suicide in this country.
I spent some time reading the government's new 10-year mental-health strategy. It's called Sharing the Vision, and, to be fair, it seems robust, well considered and admirable. Certainly, if it is executed fully, it will do great things. I believe that Simon and previous health ministers have always had the best will in the world. But intention is not enough in a crisis. And we have a mental-health crisis in this country.
The problem seems to be that we look at mental health in a vacuum. When government considers any legislation - say around gambling, or young people's access to graphic pornography online - they don't seem to consider that these are mental-health issues waiting to happen, or happening, in real time.
It's as though mental health is one little folder that is kept away from all other issues, despite its impact on every single citizen in this country.
Before we legalised homosexuality - imagine the mental toll of waking every morning in a country where it is illegal to be who you are? Before we legalised divorce - imagine the stress and sorrow of being in a desperately unhappy marriage with no way out? Every decision made by government impacts our mental health.
This document is idealistic and hopeful and I welcome it fundamentally; I just hope the Government recognises that across all its portfolios and decisions, everything has a knock-on effect on the morale of the population.
We are now coming out of a time that was traumatic at its core. During the pandemic, we lost every sense of what we thought was secure. We were ripped from our families and our coping mechanisms were taken away - be that therapy, the gym, or meeting friends for drinks. As we reopen - knowing, as we do, that we are reopening for the economy and not because it is safe to do so - anxiety will be more pronounced. People have lost family members, businesses, jobs, access to their families, their sense of safety - these are not small issues.
It seems like a vital time to invest in mental health in the same brave and aggressive manner that government is investing in the economy.
I would love to see a society where we treat mental health with the same attitude that we give to dental health. As a kid, there's a casual prioritising that goes into seeing your dentist. It's not a huge, life-altering saga when you have to get a half-day from school to go to your appointment. Your friends don't stigmatise you or make you feel othered, because they too have had dental appointments.
Imagine an Ireland where every child is provided with an annual mental-health check-up with the same professional from the day they start school. It's no different to early intervention with dental care.
What starts as decay won't turn into a huge problem that needs expensive solutions like crowns and implants if it is treated on time.
I'm not an expert, but it seems to me that the same approach would save a percentage of the population from serious mental-health issues down the line. Of course there are always clinical diagnoses, people whose chemical composition almost predestines them to having issues that are unavoidable by early intervention.
In the dental-health analogy, I am one of those people. In spite of my annual dental appointments, commitment to flossing and brushing, my teeth are just crap. They're basically like sandcastles - they crumble at the slightest knock. However, most people are saved by very little intervention - a check-up, a clean and some self-care.
Mental health does not need to be a crisis. Mental-health policies could be weighted more heavily towards early access, so problems are spotted and the crisis interventions might not need to be so vast. We have come a long way in the discourse around mental health. But talk is cheap. The Government still has work to do to see all issues through the mental-health lens.