Swann announces appointment of Interim Mental Health Champion

Date published: 24 June 2020

Professor Siobhan O’Neill, Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University has accepted the role of interim Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland.

Siobhan O'Neill and Minister Swann
Health Minister Robin Swann with Professor Siobhán O'Neill, new interim Mental Health Champion for NI

Professor O’Neill is one of Northern Ireland’s leading experts in the field of mental health and is known for her active and passionate involvement in suicide prevention.

Making the announcement Minister Robin Swann said: “I am delighted that Professor O’Neill has agreed to step into this interim position while we proceed with an external recruitment process to make a permanent appointment by April 2021.

“Since I became Health Minister I have identified mental health as a significant priority. The Covid-19 pandemic has underlined the need for this area of health care to be given the priority it deserves.

“An integral element of bringing that required focus is the appointment of a Mental Health Champion. I am confident that Professor O’Neill will bring the needs of this sector to the very top of the policy agenda.

“As a pre-eminent expert in her field, Professor O’Neill is at the forefront in developing responsive services for those affected by trauma and mental illness.  

“Allied to that, her well established links with the voluntary and community sector will help enhance the links between government and those most closely affected by mental health issues. This will be fundamental to successfully tackling the mental health issues faced by us as a society as we move forward.”

The role of the Mental Health Champion would be expected to include acting as:

  • A public advocate for mental health and to participating in the public debate around mental resilience, suicide, mental health and recovery.
  • A consensus builder to integrate mental health and wellbeing across government. To encourage Government to think about mental wellbeing, resilience, mental health and recovery and to help integrate the ideas of mental resilience and mental health in all public policy making.
  • An adviser to senior stakeholders. To support research into mental health, and to provide a voice for those who otherwise would not be heard.

The adviser role is supportive to drive mental health forward, rather than comparative to fight against decisions.

  • A challenger of decisions and policies. To challenge decisions where mental wellbeing, suicide prevention, good mental health and recovery are not considered, and where such consideration would be beneficial for society as a whole.

Professor O’Neill said: “Mental health needs to be a key priority for Northern Ireland as we move through this pandemic and beyond. I will bring a wealth of experience, from both an academic and personal perspective to this interim role.

“I am delighted to have the opportunity to ensure that the voices of those who struggle with their mental health are heard, and that they influence policy and practice across Government Departments.

“I look forward to working with Minister Swann, the Executive and those who work on the ground, to promote well-being and deliver the mental strategy to help Northern Ireland to flourish and prosper in the future”.

Notes to editors: 

  1. Professor Siobhan O’Neill is a Professor of Mental Health Sciences at Ulster University.   Prior to joining Ulster University in 2000, Siobhan completed a degree in Psychology at the Queen's University of Belfast and a Masters in Health Psychology at NUI Galway. She also worked as a Public Health Researcher, conducting evaluations of health services and users’ experience of care.   In 2008 Siobhan coordinated the largest ever study of mental health in Northern Ireland, the NI Research and Development Office funded, NI Study of Health and Stress.

    Professor Siobhan O’Neill is known for her active and passionate involvement in the suicide prevention discussion, and has expressed personal experience of mental ill health. As such Professor O’Neill has good connections in the community and voluntary sector and is regarded as an expert in her field.

    Professor O’Neill has extensive experience of working with the community and voluntary sector, including as a member of the World Mental Health Survey Consortium, Director of youth counselling charity, Youthlife, Director National Suicide Research Foundation, advisor to I Am Here Tribe and several other suicide prevention and mental health organisations and as a member on national and international research committees. She has also very recently established the Northern Ireland Suicide Prevention Research Network.

  2. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email: pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk
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  4. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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