Mental health – a huge pastoral concern for PCI

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has welcomed the new Minister for Health’s pledge this week that, alongside mental health and substance abuse, suicide prevention is also among the key priorities for him personally and his department.

Lindsay Conway OBE, Secretary to PCI’s Council for Social Witness also praised the actors, sports personalities and others in civic society for their open letter to Health Minister, Robin Swann MLA, appealing for urgent action on suicide prevention.

“After three years of having no government in Northern Ireland, which has exacerbated many of the problems faced by the health service and stretched most of its service provision to breaking point, I welcome the priority that Minister Swann has said that he will give to mental health and suicide prevention in particular.”

Mental health – a huge pastoral concern for PCI

In welcoming the Minister’s determination ‘to put concrete actions in place that make a lasting impact’ and his intention to convene a meeting of the cross-Departmental Ministerial Co-ordination Group on Suicide Prevention, Mr Conway said that mental Health and related problems were a constant presence in the pastoral care being provided by churches, both by ministers and pastoral care workers.

“The increase in our pastoral work that we are doing is as a direct result of the current difficulties within the mental health services being provided by the Health and Social Care Trusts. Patients are waiting for months for their first appointment with a mental health professional, which places individuals under unbelievable pressure and leaving families in crisis,” Mr Conway said.

He also pointed out that churches of all denominations were working quietly in communities across Ireland providing a range of services on the ground from crèches to youth groups, lunch clubs for senior citizens to food banks and debt counselling. “As Christians we are called to demonstrate Jesus’ love for people, which means putting our faith into practical action and simple Christian caring, which is a powerful social witness of the gospel.

“This also involves responding to mental health issues within congregations on a daily basis and there are many examples of innovative programmes being organised by church-based organisations,” he said.

Mr Conway explained that ‘Flourish’, for example, is a resource that the main churches and the Health Promotion Agency have established to support and train ministers and pastoral care workers in the area of suicide and the long-term aftercare of those affected by suicide. He also drew attention to PCI’s own counselling ministry to adults called ‘Fresh Light’, which is available to people of all faiths and none.

“Already in the first few days of this new decade we have been reminded of the absolute devastation that suicide brings to families. Time and time again we hear about a lack of help and support with children and young people taking their lives while on a waiting list. As we commend all mental health providers who continue to work under such difficult conditions to provide care to those already in the system, more needs to be done and quickly,” Mr Conway said.

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