Why is a stigma reduction programme important?

In Ireland, one in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our life. That’s enough of us to fill Croke Park fourteen times over; it’s six times the number of students who enrolled in all our Universities and all our ITs combined right across the county last year, and its more people than the combined population of Cork, Clare, Galway, Limerick and Waterford.

One in four means that mental health problems touch us all. It could be your Dad, your cousin; your sister in Australia, or your best friend.

What would you do if one of those people told you they had a mental health problem?

How would you react?

Mental health problems are nothing to be frightened of; they’re part of the ups and downs of life – yet lots of us who experience mental health problems are too scared to tell our friends, family and colleagues for fear of how they might react.

Why a stigma reduction programme is important

In 2010, See Change asked nearly one thousand people about their attitudes to mental health. The results paint a worrying picture about how Ireland thinks about mental health problems and the stigma that surrounds them.[2]

We found that stigma acts as a barrier to people asking for help. Nearly 30% of young men would delay seeking help for fear of someone else finding out, and one in three people would hide mental health problems from friends.

We also asked about mental health in the workplace and found that just 46% felt that people who experience mental health problems should have the same job rights as others. Just one in five said they’d be very comfortable working with someone with depression.

While anyone may experience a mental health problem at some time in our lives – many of us are frightened of the idea of mental health problems. The stigma and discrimination associated with a significant mental health problem is, for some people, almost as difficult to manage as the experience of being unwell.[1]

An effective stigma reduction partnership has the potential to bring about real change in the attitudes towards mental health problems, which is important because stigma can damage people’s lives and has very real human, social and economic costs. The discrimination experienced by people because of their mental health problem can also act as a barrier to seeking help, speaking out and recovery.

Increasing public understanding about mental health problems requires action at every level of society. The first step in doing so is to reduce the stigma surrounding the experience of a mental health problem, using targeted public education activities that are designed to provide people with factual information about mental illnesses, and to suggest strategies for enhancing and enriching our mental health.

[1Taking Control of Your Mental Health, Shine, 2009.

[2Public Attitudes Towards Mental Illness-A Benchmark Study for See Change, See Change, 2010.

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