Our generation has a responsibility to reduce the stigma that is associated with mental illness in Ireland, Linda Power writes.
Older generations may be forgiven for having preconceived, stigmatised views of mental illness as they were simply not educated as to what mental illness was. However, today’s generation can all relate to mental health issues or know someone who has been affected by a mental illness. How do we reduce the stigma? We must approach mental health issues and those who suffer with mental illness with an open mind and an open heart. In the 60’s and 70’s, studies of the public’s understanding of mental illness suggested that a person with a mental illness was stigmatised as someone who was contained within a psychiatric hospital against his/her will.In the 80’s and 90’s, research revealed that people suffering from mental illness had been regarded with less sympathy than, virtually, any other group in society. These results are astounding considering that the World Health Organisation (2010) reported that in 2010, one of four people will suffer from a mental health issue at some point in their life. What is deeply saddening about this data however is that the reports conclude that the stigma that mental illness sufferers experience is responsible for the person’s chance of recovery. The ‘Safer Services Report’ in 1999 revealed that stigma associated with mental illness is seen as an influential obstruction in treatment-seeking and suicide prevention. We therefore, are both the answer and the barrier to recovery for a person suffering with mental illness. Mental illness is like any other disease in that we must work towards recovery. However recovery from a mental illness can only be done with the support of our friends, family, work colleagues, lecturers, associates, acquaintances and strangers. In order to support people who are suffering with a mental illness it is vital that we make an effort not to have preconceived notions of what that person is going through.Living with a mental illness is different for everyone, so we can never know each individual’s struggle. And so, we cannot possibly judge that person’s experience and in fact, have no right to. In an effort to change our views the next time you talk about depression or hear a story about suicide try not to judge, instead takea moment to try to understand. If you are feeling lonely, sad or anxious please tell someone, don’t keep it to yourself. A problem shared is a problem halved. There are many resources you can contact: look up your campus counselling website, drop into the chaplain on campus for a chat, speak to a student union advisor, talk to a friend over coffee or drop into a lecturer’s office.There will always be someone to listen; you just have to find that right person for you.