Antrim man challenges political leaders over waiting times for mental health support

An Antrim man, who battles severe anxiety, has written to political leaders here challenging them over the waits people can face for mental health support.

Steve Caldwell, who is a classroom assistant, has said he is having to work two jobs to pay for private counselling, rather than wait for NHS help.

After a recent crippling episode of anxiety Steve said he was advised by his GP to go private and now pays over £200 a month.

"Not only are you really desperate to receive help, but you're constantly ruminating on how can I work enough shifts this month, how can I pay for Christmas, how can I pay for fuel, just wondering how can I afford to go for four appointments a month."

Steve has started a petition to urge political leaders here to make mental health a priority.

"Why does it have to be such a battle for me to get help?

"I think the last six weeks have been exhausting, sending emails, sending tweets, putting up Instagram posts, but why do have to go through all that to make my voice heard?"

Mental health charities have told UTV people are waiting up to four months for help.

Sara Boyce is a mental campaigner with lobby group PPR.  She said Steve's story is far from unique.

"People are being left in a desperate situation and if they can, we've always had a two-tier health system, people have paid for counselling and therapies where they can afford to, but somebody needs to shout stop, this cannot continue."

NI's Mental Health Champion Siobhan O'Neill has said that full implementation of the mental health strategy would help address the waits people are facing.

"What we need is that system changed, and that is set out in the mental health strategy, so one of the difficulties is that people are waiting because there is a lack of staff, there is a workforce issue, so we need that side of the strategy implemented."

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