Northern Ireland

Mental health: First NI champion to 'challenge Stormont'

Siobhan O'Neill and Robin swann Image copyright DoH
Image caption Professor O'Neill is currently Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University

Ulster University academic Professor Siobhan O'Neill has been appointed mental health champion for Northern Ireland.

Prof O'Neill takes up the role on an interim basis.

Health minister Robin Swann said Prof O'Neill will bring mental health issues "to the very top of the policy agenda".

Prof O'Neill said she will work to to "promote well-being and deliver the mental strategy to help Northern Ireland to flourish and prosper".

Mr Swann announced in April he would appoint a mental health champion, to act as both a "government advocate" and "challenger of decisions".

"Mental health needs to be a key priority for Northern Ireland as we move through this pandemic and beyond," Prof O'Neill said.

She added:" "I am delighted to have the opportunity to ensure that the voices of those who struggle with their mental health are heard, and that they influence policy and practice across Government departments".

Prof O'Neill is widely regarded as one of Northern Ireland's leading mental health experts. She is currently Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University.

Mr Swann said as a pre-eminent expert in her field, Professor O'Neill is at the forefront in developing responsive services for those affected by trauma and mental illness".

He added: "Allied to that, her well established links with the voluntary and community sector will help enhance the links between government and those most closely affected by mental health issues.

"This will be fundamental to successfully tackling the mental health issues faced by us as a society as we move forward."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Northern Ireland has the highest suicide rate in the UK

Northern Ireland's mental health problem has been well-documented in recent years with the highest suicide rate in the UK.

One Ulster University study suggested that almost 30% of the NI population suffer mental health problems, nearly half of which are directly related to the Troubles.

Mr Swann said a permanent mental health champion would be appointed by April 2021.

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