Recent years have seen renewed emphasis on the importance of mental health policy as a key component of health and social policy at both national and international levels. In 2001 the European Commission produced a public health framework for mental health in the EU. In the same year, the World Health Organisation devoted its annual health report to mental health and called on countries to formulate, update and implement mental health policies. The EU and WHO initiatives both recognised that the challenges facing mental health policy makers are increasingly transnational in scope, related to issues such as rapid demographic change, increased transnational migration, the protection of human rights and the implementation of a growing number of international laws, directives and protocols in relation to mental health care.
Significant progress has been made in the development of Irish mental health services over the past 40 years. Nevertheless, many challenges remain. The aims of this paper are to outline:
• Prevailing theoretical perspectives on mental health policy
• Mental health policy in Ireland since the last major policy revision in 1984
• Relevant economic and demographic changes in Ireland since 1984
• Relevant clinical, legislative and policy developments in relation to mental health
• Future directions for mental health policy.
Electronic literature searches were performed using Psyclit (American Psychological Association, 1887–2003), Medline (United States National Library of Medicine, 1985 – 2003), with broad search terms related to mental health policy. Additional books and papers were identified by tracking back through references and consulting with colleagues. Policy documents and selected literature on Irish psychiatric services were reviewed and related to recent literature on mental health policy.