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‘Wellness’ benches giving contacts for people in distress mooted as council backs mental health motion

'We’ve lost more people to suicide in the 22 years since the Good Friday Agreement than we did during the 30-year conflict that preceded it'

Suicide person alone

ABC Council is to explore the possibility of installing ‘wellness’ benches in public areas and parks after a notice of motion on mental health initiatives got the thumbs-up.

Alliance Councillor Eoin Tennyson sponsored the recent motion, which called on Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council to become a “civic leader on mental health”.

Tabled at a remote meeting of ABC Council – and seconded by party colleague Councillor Peter Lavery – it received unanimous backing.

But it did so with a number of unopposed amendments which were in fact welcomed by Councillor Tennyson.

DUP Councillor Darryn Causby asked that reference be made to the good work of council officers in relation to considering mental health matters.

And the SDLP’s Thomas O’Hanlon suggested the provision on ‘wellness’ benches.

He explained that these are actually in place in a number of other council areas and he ask that officers explore their possible installation locally.

The benches incorporate a small plaque bearing essential telephone numbers for people in distress, including the Samaritans and LifeLine.

Councillor Tennyson said he had spoken to the SDLP representative prior to his motion and felt it was a worthy amendment and said he was happy for it to be included.

Speaking after the meeting, the Alliance councillor welcomed support from all parties for a motion which will see council take a number of practical steps to support staff and citizens, including providing suicide awareness and prevention training, coordinating a campaign to promote positive mental health and wellbeing and appointing mental health champions within council departments.

Councillor Tennyson said: “I welcome support for this important motion and hope mental health is an issue parties can unite around and prioritise going forward.

“We’ve lost more people to suicide in the 22 years since the Good Friday Agreement than we did during the 30-year conflict that preceded it.

“Failure to properly prioritise, invest in, and deliver on mental health policy and services in that time, and indeed during three years of recent political stagnation, has set us back even further and is totally unacceptable.

“Sadly what was already a deeply troubling situation will have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a result of necessary restrictions put in place to save lives, there has been an upsurge in people seeking mental health support due to loneliness and social isolation, lack of service access, worries about job security and so much more. The consequences are likely to be far-reaching and long-lasting.

“We need to plan and prepare now to deal with the psychological aftermath and additional mental health needs post-Covid – and local government has an essential role to play.”

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