Mental health stigma fuelled by lack of understanding, research shows

Tue, Sep 11, 2012, 01:00

A LACK of understanding of mental health problems continues to fuel stigma and prevents people from accessing support, according to new research released to mark World Suicide Awareness Day.

More than one-fifth of people surveyed for the research believed those suffering from mental health problems were of below average intelligence, while 31 per cent said they would not willingly accept someone with a mental health problem as a close friend.

A clear majority of people – 62 per cent – said they would discriminate against hiring someone with a history of mental illness on the grounds that they may be unreliable, the research carried out for St Patrick’s Hospital indicates. Some 42 per cent of respondents felt that undergoing treatment for a mental health problem was a sign of personal failure.

Paul Gilligan, chief executive of the hospital, described the findings as disturbing.

“These figures highlight the critical requirement to reduce stigma and barriers to accessing mental healthcare. It’s also essential that those looking for help are provided with adequate high-quality services that they can trust in.”

He pointed to figures from the World Health Organisation which show that about one million people die by suicide each year, or about one death by suicide every 40 seconds.

To improve levels of mental health literacy in the population, the hospital is beginning a series of free information evenings for families and carers, beginning today at 6.30pm.

A number of events were held yesterday to mark World Suicide Awareness Day, including an open air Mass in Dundalk and candle-light vigils in Drogheda, Navan, Cavan, Carrickmacross, Ardee and Bailieborough.

In Ireland last year, 525 people took their own lives, up from 486 in 2010. It is estimated that for every person who takes his or her own life, 20 may attempt to kill themselves.