The effect of stigma


Stigma can be deeply hurtful and isolating, and is one of the most significant problems encountered by people with mental health problems. Learning to live with mental health problems is made more difficult,  when someone experiences the prejudice caused by stigma.

Stigma can be used to exclude and marginalise people. The prejudice and fear caused by stigma may even prevent people from coming forward and seeking the help they need. Stigma can also stop people offering help or being supportive. Stigma often inhibits people from getting the jobs they are qualified to do and it can prevent people with mental health problems from playing an active role in their community.

Tackling the stigma associated with mental health problems will not happen overnight. However, the See Change programme – through a targeted, community driven approach – has the potential to affect change within Irish society, and help to lay the necessary foundations for a real and positive transformation of how mental health problems are perceived.

Social impact of mental health stigma

In addition to the economic costs associated with mental health problems, there are significant social and personal costs. People with mental health problems consistently identify stigma, discrimination and social exclusion as major barriers to their health, well-being and quality of life. Stigma can and does contribute to:

  • limiting access to housing and employment
  • damaging social relationships and social participation
  • reducing self-esteem and dignity
  • lack of control and influence in how services are designed and delivered
  • the abuse of human rights

Amnesty International Ireland recently conducted research into the experience of discrimination as reported by people with mental health problems. Nearly everyone who participated in the study (95.4%) reported some level of unfair treatment as a result of a mental health problem. More than 70% of participants concealed their mental health problems from others. Three in five stopped working. More than half stopped themselves from having a close relationship and more than 40% of people stopped themselves engaging in education.

Economic impact of mental health stigma

As well as having a deeply negative impact on society and the individual, stigma also costs the state financially. If people are too ashamed or worried to talk, they may not come forward to seek help. That delay can cause even more distress and results in a higher cost to the health service when people do eventually come forward.

There are already significant economic and social costs associated with mental health problems. One in four (132.4 million) Europeans are affected by mental health problems every year. This resulted in an economic cost of €436 billion in 2006 or €2,271 per EU household per year.

The overall economic cost of mental health problems in Ireland has been estimated at just over €3 billion in 2006. Depression is estimated to cost the EU €41 billion in direct costs and €77 billion in productivity losses. This compares to €35 billion in productivity losses for cardiovascular disease. Stigma acts as a barrier to seeking help and accessing support, which negatively affects an individual’s recovery and can result in a far higher cost to the state when help and treatment are eventually provided.

The estimated total cost of schizophrenia in Ireland for 2006 was €460.6 million. The direct cost of care was €117.5 million, while indirect costs were €343 million. The cost of lost productivity due to unemployment, absence from work and premature mortality was €277 million.

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