Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Doug Beattie will share the stage on young people’s mental health issues this weekend

Leaders of the two main Unionist parties will share a stage this weekend – the first time since they met to discuss Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s future in the DUP.

oth Sir Jeffrey and UUP leader Doug Beattie will be part of the panel at an event at Belfast’s Stormont Hotel on Saturday, hosted by youth-run Pure Mental, to discuss young people and health mental.

They will be joined by Alliance leader Naomi Long, Sinn Fein’s Orlaithi Flynn and SDLP MP Claire Hanna.

It comes after Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey last month denied claims he had considered returning to the UUP, while Mr Beattie said he had evidence to prove it had been discussed during the talks. This weekend they will meet at an event which gives young people the chance to grill politicians ahead of the May general election.

Jay Buntin, one of the founders of the mental health charity, said the election will see many young voters go to the polls for the first time.

“We are delighted that our political parties have shown how seriously they take these issues,” he said.

“The fact that we have three party leaders present will give young people the opportunity to ask them about the real mental health issues that so many people are experiencing, not just in schools, but in university and in the community in the sense large.

“We’re not going to give them an easy ride. At Pure Mental, we are determined to make a real difference in the attitudes and support available to improve the mental health of young people in Northern Ireland.

“Our politicians can be sure that we will take note of what they say, the commitments they make and that we will closely monitor progress in implementing a mental health strategy to support all young people.

“We want to make sure this is not a case of politicians just looking at the opinions of young people. We want to hear their views, interact with them and let them know how we feel and what we want to see happen.”

Representatives from student unions, the NI Youth Forum and the Crisis Cafe will also be present at the event.

The panel will hear Pure Mental’s call for politicians to commit to fully fund and support a primary school counseling service that goes beyond just a pilot program, ensuring that the program is co-designed with parents and teachers.

They also seek to ensure mental health first aid training is available to school staff, so that in times of crisis and despair, students and staff are supported.

Pure Mental also calls for support for the creation of a school mental health plan for students with special educational needs in collaboration with parents, teachers and school leaders. He also wants MPs to commit to improving mental health education, awareness and services in schools with a top-down, holistic and comprehensive approach.

Jay added: ‘Perhaps most importantly, we need to see a commitment to fully fund the Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031 through a multi-stakeholder approach and across the board.’

Last month it was revealed that more than 2,000 children are waiting to access mental health services.

In 944 cases, there was a wait of more than nine weeks for a first appointment with the mental health service at CAMHS.

One in eight young people here suffer from anxiety and depression, 25 per cent more than elsewhere in the UK, and the problem has grown in the past two years of school closures and Covid restrictions.

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