Event reflections: transforming mental health and wellbeing in Northern Ireland

The Collaborative Centre recently had the pleasure of hosting Professor Gavin Davidson, Dr Iain McDougall and Dr Claire McCartan from Belfast.

Thursday, 22 February 2024 at 11:05 pm
Image of recent panel event featuring from L-R, Co-CEO Professor Sarah Wilson, Dr Iain McDougall, Dr Claire McCartan, Professor Gavin Davidson, and LEAP member Puneet Sansanwal

The Collaborative Centre recently had the pleasure of hosting Professor Gavin Davidson, Dr Iain McDougall and Dr Claire McCartan from Belfast.  

The three researchers are involved in the implementation of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Strategy 2021-31.(opens in a new window) 

Included in the ambitious Northern Ireland strategy is the establishment of a centre of excellence for mental health and wellbeing research and innovation.   

Gavin, Iain and Claire were interested to learn more about the Collaborative Centre’s work to inform the establishment of their centre. In turn, we were eager to hear more about their new strategy and the opportunities and challenges they face in Northern Ireland.  

We invited them to join a panel conversation alongside Collaborative Centre Co-CEO Professor Sarah Wilson and Puneet Sansanwal from our Lived Experiences Advisory Panel to discuss our shared aims and challenges.  

Challenges and opportunities

A key theme of the conversation was around the siloed nature of both countries’ mental health and wellbeing systems. This prompted a conversation about how to bring services together to achieve system-wide change.  

Panellists also discussed some of the great opportunities to continue growing our lived and living experience workforces. They discussed the importance of ensuring that people with lived and living experience can meaningfully contribute to, and lead, mental health and wellbeing research and reform.  

Image of Co-CEO Professor Sarah Wilson facilitating panel discussion.


We spoke with Puneet about what he learned from the conversation.  

Puneet reflected on the sobering statistics shared by Claire about the impacts of The Troubles in Northern Ireland(opens in a new window). He noted links to Australia’s own history of colonisation. 

He said, “I found some similarities and connection to our own country’s First Nations people, who continue to feel the generational trauma of colonisation and the impact of the Stolen Generations.”  

Puneet also commented on the wonderful space at the Wheeler Centre. He found it created “a welcoming and inviting place for the conversations” and promoted equal participation for all attendees.   

Responses to audience questions: 

The conversation prompted some fantastic questions from attendees.   

We received more questions than we had time to answer, and Professor Gavin Davidson provided some responses following the event. You can find his answers below.     

A heartfelt thanks to our international guests for sharing their expertise, and to our consortium partners who joined us for this rich conversation. We look forward to the next one! 

Q1. There's a massive gap for consumers between primary care and the rest of the mental health care, treatment and support service system in Australia. It grows at least in part from bilateral funding. Does having different levels of care in a unified governance and funding structure such as the NHS help? 

Professor Davidson: "In general, it does seem reasonable to argue that the governance and funding structure should be as clear, open, accessible, integrated and equitable as possible. In Northern Ireland our structures for health and social care are integrated (in contrast to Great Britain), which can be helpful. 

On other hand, well integrated structures don't resolve inadequate funding. In a recent report from the Northern Ireland Audit Office(opens in a new window) there is an acknowledgement that mental health services in NI are underfunded. Sometimes I think we do consider restructuring solutions to address what are more basic, underfunding problems.   

We also have a community and voluntary sector which is less well integrated and often reliant on short-term and uncertain funding arrangements. One of the actions in our Strategy is to better integrate the sectors."

Q2. What are your reflections on how one considers and responds to social determinants in service delivery, beyond the promotion and prevention domain? 

Professor Davidson: "Even acknowledging the role and importance of the social determinants is important. This report from the Mental Health Foundation(opens in a new window) sets out some of the economic arguments for a greater focus on prevention.  

Mental health services have an important role in this process, which includes raising awareness of these issues, not reinforcing individual level interpretations of structural issues and taking any opportunities there are to directly address issues such as stigma, discrimination and poverty.  

We contributed to this report from the Office of Social Services(opens in a new window) which sets out some of the specific things that social workers can and should be doing to address deprivation."

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