Introducing Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion focussed on improving rural support

Northern Ireland has one of the highest rates of mental ill health in the UK, and to tackle this and improve services the Department of Health launched a 10-year Mental Health Strategy that sets out the future strategic direction of mental health services in Northern Ireland.

Promoted by Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland
Tuesday, 21st December 2021, 11:23 am
Professor Siobhan O’Neill was appointed in September 2021, as Northern Ireland’s first permanent Mental Health Champion
Professor Siobhan O’Neill was appointed in September 2021, as Northern Ireland’s first permanent Mental Health Champion

The Minister for Health, Robin Swann, also appointed a permanent Mental Health Champion as someone who would advocate for change to improve services in NI and be the voice for those with lived experience of mental ill health to inform the change needed.

A Rural Focus

One of the key priorities for the new Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill, is ensuring that actions in the Mental Health Strategy are fully implemented.

Currently many of those living in rural communities cannot readily access services close to home, but by implementing the Strategy in full we can improve the provision of support available by creating a Regional Mental Health Service and setting up multidisciplinary therapy hubs across Northern Ireland, which will make it much easier for those living in rural areas to access mental health support and early intervention.

Who is the Mental Health Champion?

Professor Siobhan O’Neill was appointed in September 2021, as Northern Ireland’s first permanent Mental Health Champion. As Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University, Siobhan is one of Northern Ireland’s leading experts in the field of mental health, known for her active and passionate involvement in suicide prevention.

Siobhan has been an advocate for mental health at both public and governmental levels. With over 21 years’ research experience, her goal is to utilise research to evolve the narrative around mental ill health and inform future research and policy for the benefit of the next generation.

Siobhan continues in her role as a University Professor, alongside her role as Mental Health Champion, believing that her work as an academic and scientist enables her to build upon her academic expertise and translate her research into practice, whilst remaining independent. In this role she is a Government advisor and is involved in shaping the delivery of mental health and wellbeing initiatives across Government Departments.

Why do we need a Mental Health Champion?

We are at the beginning of transformational change to mental health services, with the implementation of the Mental Health Strategy. The Strategy consists of 35 actions to reform mental health services and to further early intervention and prevention.

The Mental Health Champion’s priority is to ensure that actions in the Mental Health Strategy are implemented, challenging inconsistences and guiding those who are designing the services, ensuring that the perspectives of people with lived experience of mental illness and their carers shape service design and delivery.

As Mental Health Champion, Siobhan has been meeting those affected by mental ill health and those delivering services to gain an understanding of what needs to change. She has been working with key advocacy groups and campaigners to ensure that services meet the needs of people on the ground.

Now that the Mental Health Champion is in place, we have a voice for those working with, and living with, mental health issues. An individual to challenge Government, offer informed independent scrutiny, and collectively work hand in hand with the Government and other organisations to promote wellbeing. Plus, ultimately support the delivery of excellent mental health services for the population of Northern Ireland.

Learn more about the role and work of your Mental Health Champion via its social media and YouTube Channels.