February 1, 2008

North/South Mental Health Services Research Group

Mental Health is currently a key priority of the two governments on the island.  There remains a great need for research and information which can inform planning and practice in the mental health services on the island.

In October 2001 the Health Ministers, North and South, agreed a draft Memorandum of Understanding on the establishment of an all-Island Institute for Mental Health and commissioned a review of key stakeholders opinions. (This initiative was based on an original proposal from the Northern Ireland Association of Mental Health). The Deloitte and Touche report delivered in January 2003 highlighted the benefits of working on North/ South basis but Ministers decided that the timing for such an initiative was not right with policy and institutional changes occurring on both sides of the border.

The Mental Health Commission (MHC) Ireland which emerged out of these reforms has begun to develop a mental health services research agenda in partnership with other key players within the South.  Action taken include the publication of a Mental Health Research Strategy, the initiation of annual research scholarships and the development of a knowledge database on best practice, and the establishment of an MHC research committee with members from both sides of the border which guides the MHC research agenda and priorities.

In 2007 the Centre for Cross Border Studies was approached by the MHC to re-examine the possibility of an all-island approach to developing mental health service research with new individual jurisdiction policies North and South showing considerable commonalities in terms of how mental health services should develop into the future.  An initial all-island Mental Health Services Research Study Daywas held in February 2007 when 23 senior policy makers, academics and practitioners came together to discuss the potential for North/ South co-operation in the development of all-island mental health services research.  The attendees at this Study Day strongly supported the strengthening of North/ South co-operation believing that the timing for such co-operation was opportune.

A second event hosted by the North/ South Ministerial Council in December 2007 brought together key partners from across the island to develop concrete action points for furthering this agenda.  Stakeholders remain committed to developing high quality multidisciplinary research which also addresses socio-environmental factors while maintaining a strong practical value for policymakers within a North/ South framework.  There continues to be a strong belief that the time is right for developing such co-operation while recognising that the financial commitment to fund a dedicated North/ South Institute is clearly not an option.  The attendees agreed to formally establish themselves as a core North/ South Group and to invite wider representation from CAWT and a number of key institutions.

Possible activities for a North/ South Group were outlined as:

  • Fostering collaboration between mental health services researchers
  • Providing a common voice for individual agendas to strengthen the mental health agenda
  • Developing and maintaining Knowledge Management systems
  • Shifting the emphasis to under-researched areas such as service users, carers and their families, outcomes form service interventions
  • Providing leadership addressing issues of governance, standards and sustainability
  • Influencing policy-makers
  • Brokering between and influencing the various funding agencies, pharmaceutical companies and different philanthropic groups
  • Determining and raising the effectiveness of research in terms of meeting relevance, and quality standards
  • Proactively addressing and planning for future issues and trends in mental health.

It was accepted that there was a need to develop a better understanding of each other’s systems by sharing information about current mental health service, policy practice and future plans before identifying joint research topics.  It was agreed that two initial pieces of work – a mapping study on mental health research on the island and a comparison of mental health policy on the island -would provide a strong grounding for future work and develop an identify for the Group.  The Centre for Cross Border Studies was asked to facilitate this work.

Initial research
On behalf of the North/ South Mental Health Services Research Group the Centre has been asked to complete two small initial research projects which would provide a firm grouping for developing the partnership approach on North/ South mental health services research.

  1. To develop a mapping study of current mental health research which would look at research capabilities, interests and outputs across the island involving academic researchers, civil and public servants, service providers, service users, community/ voluntary sector, private sector and charitable organisations.  This work will also provide a detailed view of Irish literature on mental health services, seek to clarify any existing research networks and interests and provide a baseline for developing co-operation.  This work (and the following work) would be informed by a previous CAWT publication – Promoting Mental Health in the Border Region: A Strategic Review 2005.
  1. Secondly, to prepare a comparison of the two main mental health policy documents (Bamford Review in the North and the Vision for Change document in the South ) which would identify similarities and differences in policy approach across the border highlighting areas of common concern, joint priorities for research and gaps which exist.  This report would serve as an important reference point for developing ongoing relationships between key research and policy groups on both sides of the border.

See details of the Study Day.