The Covid-19 pandemic has had a "serious impact" on mental health services, and "national solidarity" has been key to keeping services going, a minister has told a Dáil committee.

Mary Butler, Minister of State at the Department of Health, said that as reopening continues "[mental health] services may be needed more than ever".

Services are now operating at 85 to 90% capacity, she said, with blended services often being offered with the help of NGOs.

These services are "operating well, to a large degree", the minister insisted, but accepted that "we must continue to do more".

She thanked all those who have done "phenomenal work" to keep services operational.

The minister also said: "I do believe that we need a national day or mourning, or a national day of commemoration" to mark the loss of life which the pandemic has inflicted.

We "have it within our grasp to make [mental health services] exceptional", she told the Sub-Committee on Mental Health.

Challenges include staffing and disruption caused by the cyber-attack on the department last May, she added.

Filling a post "can take up to 50 weeks", Minister Butler told Neasa Hourigan, Green Party TD.

And back-filling a post can add to this delay, which is "frustrating", the minister said.

Fine Gael Senator Aisling Dolan asked if back-filling was the norm in other European countries.

"Why is it taking so long?", she asked, suggesting that "we recruit outside the HSE".

"It's not good enough", Senator Dolan insisted.

When she assumed office last year, Minister Butler said she "was concerned" that 5,200 people under 18 years of age were waiting for over a year to see a therapist.

She told the committee that she has secured an additional €4m for the final quarter of this year to address that backlog.

The recruitment of 50 new staff is also under consideration, she added.

Minister Butler also revealed that "close to 487 young people were admitted last year with an eating disorder" which is a "very worrying trend".

She told the committee that in 2019 and 2020 funding for these services was cut off. However, the minister said she has reinstated funding this year, to the tune of €3.94m.

She noted the role social media plays in driving eating disorders.

Gino Kenny, Solidarity-PBP TD, said Ireland spends a much smaller proportion of its health budget on mental health than many other countries.

The minister responded by noting that Ireland's spend of 5.1% only shows HSE funding. She also said that the overall health budget had been significantly increased.

Minister Butler emphasised that the 2021 budget of €1.1bn for the sector is "the largest ever".

However, she said that she took Deputy Kenny's point, adding that she will be "pushing really hard for the biggest budget we've ever had for mental health" in the upcoming budget.

Minister Butler also told Committee Chairperson, Independent Senator Frances Black, that services are provided "in seventeen languages".

Senator Black said she is aware of many suicides.

Dr Philip Dodd of the Mental Health Unit acknowledged that face-to-face training on suicide prevention "has been paused" due to the pandemic.

Online training has been made available, and in-person training will resume as restrictions are eased.

The minister said that "provisional CSO figures" indicate that 340 people took their lives in 2020. She added that this figure will probably increase as records are fully completed.

However, Minister Butler said the trends "are not suggesting that we saw a spike last year".