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See Change - Attacking the Stigma of Mental Health

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

A major new campaign aimed at reducing the stigma associated with mental health problems has been launched.

The campaign, See Change, is being supported by a number of Government departments and related organisations, including the HSE, the Department of Health, the National Office for Suicide Prevention, the Disability Authority, the College of Psychiatry of Ireland, Amnesty International, Bodywhys, Grow and Mental Health Ireland.

Working in partnership, these organisations are hoping to bring about positive change in public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems.

Speaking at the launch of See Change, John Moloney, Junior Minister for Disability and Mental Health, said that stigma 'has no place in Irish society'.

"It damages people's lives and can be deeply hurtful and isolating and is one of the most significant problems encountered by people with mental health problems. It can also be distressing for the families and friends of those persons," he explained.

The aim of this new campaign is to:

. Reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems and challenge discrimination.
. Create an environment where people are more open and positive in their attitudes and behaviour towards mental health.
. Promote a greater understanding and acceptance of and support for people with mental health problems.
. Empower individual people with experience of mental health problems to gain equality, respect and rights.

A network of national and local organisations across the country will carry the anti-stigma message through local broadcasts, local print media and a range of other activities.

The campaign will run for at least two years. It is hoped that by the end of this period, people with mental health problems will find it easier to participate as valued members of society with access to meaningful employment, appropriate housing and positive interpersonal relationships.

"Eliminating the stigma associated with mental ill health will not happen overnight. However the 'See Change' campaign has the potential to affect change within Irish society and help lay the necessary foundations for a real and positive transformation of how mental illness is perceived," Minister Moloney added.

A competition to provide a slogan for the See Change campaign or ideas to bring about changes in public attitudes and behaviour has also been launched. The winning entry will receive €5,000.

For more information on the campaign and competition, click on

For more information on depression, visit:

The effect of stigma

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.

What is stigma?

When we talk about stigma, we are talking about using negative labels to identify people with mental health problems. Stigma has it roots in fear and misunderstanding. Many people hold negative opinions towards people with mental health problems because they do not understand the issues involved and because they are relying on myths and misconceptions.
International research and policy documents identify stigma as one of the most persistent barriers to understanding mental health problems and the importance of mental health. Stigma has been described as:

"A cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid and discriminate against people with mental ill health. Stigma leads others to avoid living, socialising, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders -especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalise public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment."

In short, there are three core issues arising out of social stigma. These are:

1. Lack of knowledge (ignorance)

People in general have little understanding of mental health problems and much of the information they do have is factually incorrect. There is a serious need to convey more useful information about mental health to people, such as how to recognise the features of mental health problems and where to get help.

2. Negative attitudes (prejudice)

Anxiety, fear and avoidance of people with mental health problems are common feelings experienced by people. These negatives attitudes also exist for people with mental health problems who anticipate rejection and discrimination and therefore impose upon themselves a form of 'self-stigma' or an internalised stigma.

3. Hostile behaviour (discrimination)

People with a mental health difficulty must enjoy the same rights on an equal basis with everyone without discrimination. Treating people with mental health problems differently can result in social exclusion, denial of rights such as housing, employment and education and disadvantage.

Suicide or Survive: 1890 577 577 ,
Shine - Supporting People Affected by Mental Ill Health: Information Helpline 1890 621 631
Bodywhys - the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland - LoCall Helpline (1890 200 444)
GROW Infoline - 1890 474 474
Samaritans - 1850609090 - 24/7