Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

We need to talk about mental health

We all need to take collective responsibility to tackling mental health stigma and can start by taking time to talk about mental health with the people around us, writes Marie Duffy.

Fri, Sep 28, 2012, 09:48


We all need to take collective responsibility to tackling mental health stigma and can start by taking time to talk about mental health with the people around us, writes Marie Duffy.

Statistics tell us that one in four people will suffer from mental health problems at some stage in their life. However, despite the fact that mental health problems are relatively common, people experiencing them can often find themselves facing stigma and discrimination.

After employment and education, health, and particularly mental health, is one of our most read topics on, a website for young people. Mental health is unquestionably the topic which we receive the most article submissions on. Almost every day we receive a submission from a young person who wants to speak out about their experience of mental ill-health or suicide.

This is a worrying trend which represents the struggle that many young people are having in Ireland today. Since the start of the recession we have seen an increase in the number of people coping with mental health difficulties, and people dying by suicide. Now more than ever, we should be investing more money in the mental health services, but instead we are cutting chunks out of an already tiny budget.

We should be supporting and caring for the most vulnerable people in our society, instead we are leaving them to fend for themselves.

These cuts are impacting on young people in particular, as the journey into adulthood can be the most vulnerable and emotional time of their life. It is often marred by confusion as individuals attempt to work out who they are, and what they want to do with their life.

Young people deserve the opportunity to experience positive mental wellbeing.

But this can only be achieved through physical, emotional and spiritual development. In order for this to be possible, young people need to live in a world that doesn’t discriminate against them or marginalise them.

On September 10th, we celebrated World Suicide Prevention Day and remembered all those lives that have been lost to suicide. Ireland has the fifth highest youth suicide rate in Europe, with more people dying by suicide each year than on the roads. Despite this only a fraction of the government’s budget is spent on suicide prevention.

In 2008, €45 million was spent on road safety and accident prevention measures. In the same period only one-tenth (€4.5 million) was spent on suicide prevention. The stigma of mental illness rises right to the top of society. A 2011 study among service users conducted by St Patrick’s University Hospital showed that many people live with the symptoms of mental ill-health for long periods without accessing mental health advice or treatment. This is due mainly to the stigma that surrounds mental health as well as lack of knowledge about mental health problems and sources of help.

Forty-one per cent of those surveyed had lived with their symptoms for at least one year before seeking help, while Forty-one per cent of people surveyed would not discuss their mental health problems with their employer.

So how do we address this stigma which is preventing so many people from seeking help from the mental health services? In my opinion, not only do we need to address the attitudes of society in general, but we need to overhaul the mental health service itself. Although services are improving in many parts of the country, there is still a long way to go.

The government has been criticised for not implementing the Vision for Change plan, which was introduced in 2006. The question is how many people have to experience difficulties or die from suicide before something is done to help them?

So how do we change this? I believe the answer does not just lie with medical professionals or politicians. We all need to take collective responsibility to tackling mental health stigma and can start by taking time to talk about mental health with the people around us.

Often the fact that it is difficult to talk about mental health can be the hardest part. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Take some time to open up and start your conversation today.

Marie Duffy is 27, and editor of the Irish youth website

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