It is unsurprising given the history of Northern Ireland that we struggle with higher rates of poor mental health. The legacy of the Troubles has cast a long shadow upon families from across this country, whether Unionist or Nationalist. Regardless of whether you were a member of a paramilitary organisation or an innocent victim caught up in the pointless bloodshed, the role for the Government seems clear: to provide the highest level of care available for those who require it.
Yet, worryingly, Northern Ireland has one of the lowest rates of investment in mental health services across the United Kingdom. This is particularly alarming when you consider that public spending per person in Northern Ireland is higher than anywhere else in the UK. But it clearly shines a light on the priorities of Stormont - and they rest firmly in the past. Instead of helping those suffering in the present, the legacy parties spend millions on inquiries into the Troubles. Whilst revealing these hidden truths is an admirable objective, it should not come before the health of our citizens.
The consequences of this choice are paid for by the most vulnerable in our society. Only a few years ago a report stated that the highest rate of suicide within the United Kingdom was among men living in Northern Ireland. Yet the political crisis which followed revolved around the Stormont Trinity of Flags, Parades and the Past.
In addition - and just as worrying - the Rainbow Project reported that 70.9% of the LGBT Community in Northern Ireland have suffered from depression, with 25.7% having attempted suicide. This is in contrast with only 13% of the LGBT Community in Great Britain experiencing self-harm. Whilst the figures from Great Britain should not be dismissed, they highlight our complete failure in Northern Ireland to support the LGBT Community, a choice made by the Legacy Parties.
Whilst these statistics may 'paint a worrying picture for Northern Ireland', it must be remembered that each of these numbers is a life. It should therefore be the priority of all parties to produce an emergency plan to tackle this crisis. We in the Northern Ireland Conservatives accept that early intervention is vital both for preventing long term costs and, more importantly, saving lives. This is why we are proud to support Brokenshire's Budget in the scenario that an Executive is not formed. With the planned increase in health spending of 3%, it would represent a major stride forward in tackling our historically inadequate funding for mental health issues.
In the upcoming months, whilst the Stormont talks remain in deadlock, I intend to ensure that this issue does not get overshadowed by sectarian feuds. This real crisis is too important to be ignored. It is my sincere hope that you will join this campaign to ensure that our future prioritises mental health.
By Sheila Bodel, Conservative Party Candidate for East Belfast.