Mental health: a stubborn stigma

What prevents us viewing psychological problems as we would any other health issue?

Attitudes to mental health difficulties remain fraught with stigma and negativity, according to the latest survey from St Patrick's Mental Health Services. Despite the fact that 28 per cent of respondents had been treated for a mental health difficulty themselves, and 44 per cent had a family member who had been previously treated for such difficulties, the survey revealed that many Irish people still find it difficult to discuss mental health issues.

Perhaps the most disheartening finding was that two thirds of respondents said being treated for a mental health issue was a sign of personal failure. Other unsettling findings to emerge from the online survey were that four in 10 of those surveyed wanted the public to be better protected from people with mental health problems; some 44 per cent would not trust someone who experienced post-natal depression to babysit; and a quarter would tell no one if they had previously been an inpatient for a mental health difficulty.

Commenting on the results, Paul Gilligan, chief executive of St Patrick's, said: "We know that one of the biggest barriers to seeking help for a mental health difficulty is stigma and year on year we are disappointed to find that despite the many public awareness campaigns being run, Irish attitudes to mental health are still fraught with stigma and negativity".

According to the World Health Organisation, one in four young people suffer from a mental illness and some 75 per cent of all mental health difficulties begin before 24 years of age. And even though more than 300,000 people in the Republic have depression and 80 per cent of those surveyed believe it is a common condition, stigma levels remain high.


Nor has there been a sea change in attitudes to mental years in the last decade. A mental health barometer survey from 2006 found almost similar levels of social stigma in Ireland.

Despite a steady stream of public information campaigns a key question remains unanswered: what is it that prevents us from viewing psychological problems as we would any other health issue?