Monday, 11 October 2010

Government action needed on mental health prejudice and discrimination

A new report launched today on the 7th of October 2010 uncovers an uncomfortable set of truths about how we treat people with mental health problems in Ireland today. More than 300 people were interviewed by Dublin City University’s School of Nursing as part of Amnesty International Ireland’s (AI) mental health and human rights campaign. Hear my voice: challenging prejudice and discrimination contains their voices and places the findings in a human rights context.

Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of AI, said: “Unlike racism, sexism or ageism, there is no ‘-ism’ to describe discrimination on the grounds of mental health. It remains the hidden, permissible ‘-ism’, but it must be challenged.

“At the heart of Hear my voice is not the statistics or the analysis but the human stories. For example, when you hear about the job offer that disappeared at the mention of a mental health problem. Or someone else explaining how their opinion, once respected, suddenly had no value because of a mental health problem. And another outlining so simply, yet so powerfully, the dramatic effect a mental health problem had on their social life. ‘No telephone calls, no visiting, no invitations to visit.’

“We are used to hearing about society’s hostile attitudes towards people with mental health problems. But in Ireland to date there has been little research about the nature, extent and impact of discrimination that people with mental health problems face, especially from the perspective of that group itself. This research has highlighted the problems that exist and point clearly to the need for a more thorough analysis by the Government, followed by action to properly address this issue.

“In Ireland there is no clear evidence of overt direct discrimination by the state in its laws, policies or practices. The real issue however is the hidden, indirect discrimination and inequality people face. We know that people with mental health problems have lower employment rates and are more likely to have left education early, suggesting the reported unfair treatment from the research is having a very real impact on people’s lives.”

Caroline McGuigan, founder and CEO of Suicide or Survive, lived through mental health problems. She said: “It’s not the big things that stay with you, it’s the little things. Like being told that because you have a mental health problem, ‘You can’t cope. You’re not able.’ People talking behind your back. It is horrible.

“Job opportunities for me were suddenly limited. It’s like everything I had achieved in my life previously had disappeared from view. I was educated, had been running my own business. But out of the blue, the goalposts changed.

“It became, ‘You are mentally unwell and this is all you are capable of.’”

“Being vulnerable and struggling is a part of life, yet mental health issues are still a taboo subject and the old myths are still around. These attitudes and behaviours have to change because they are what are destroying lives and communities.”

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, author and freelance journalist who has experienced depression, said: “Fear of prejudice and discrimination silenced me. I saw what happened to colleagues and friends who had depression. The label of depression is the only thing people needed to know about them. It could cast a shadow on their career for the rest of their life. And I didn’t want that.

“So instead, I hid this part of me away and in the process cut off possible avenues of help and support. Slowly I died inside.

“The ‘black cloud’ still envelopes me from time to time. But I have learned how to manage it.”

National campaign

At the report launch, AI, in partnership with See Change, the National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership, unveiled its brand new social marketing campaign to help challenge mental health prejudice and end discrimination, which will be seen on billboards, bus shelters and in newspapers across the country. The campaign is asking everyone to play a part in challenging mental health prejudice, by taking a pledge, taking action or attending a community event.

Top line findings from DCU’s research:

* 95 per cent of participants reported some level of unfair treatment because of
a mental health problem

* The vast majority of respondents (86 per cent) indicated that they experienced
some level of distress as a result of unfair treatment

* 64 per cent of people reported unfair treatment in making or keeping friends

* 63 per cent of people reported having been avoided or shunned because of a
mental health problem

* 61 per cent of people reported being treated unfairly by family

* 44 per cent of people reported being treated unfairly in terms of personal

* 43 per cent reported being treated unfairly in keeping a job

* 36 per cent of people reported being unfairly treated in finding a job

* Two thirds (66 per cent) of the participants stopped themselves from applying
for work

Among Amnesty International’s recommendations in Hear my voice: challenging mental health prejudice and discrimination are:

Recommendation: Ireland should ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol without further delay.

Recommendation: Government departments should:

* Set out specific commitments and develop plans of action to implement the
social inclusion recommendations in A Vision for Change which are relevant to
their work;

* Identify indirect discrimination against people with mental health problems
that may be occurring as a consequence of the application of laws and policies
that fall within their responsibility to undertake measures to redress this,
and monitor the impact of these measures; and

* Develop and implement specialised education programmes targeted at key state
agencies under their authority to improve attitudes and conduct of officials.

Recommendation: The Equality Authority should collect, analyse and disseminate information on the prevalence and nature of discrimination against people with mental health problems.

Recommendation: The Office for Mental Health and Disability should adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures to combat prejudice and raise awareness of the impact of discrimination.

Recommendation: AI calls on civil society organisations and groups to help create an environment in which people mental health problems are free from discrimination.

See Change - See Change, the National Mental Health Stigma Reduction Partnership, is an alliance of organisations working together to bring about positive change in public attitudes and behaviour towards people with mental health problems. Amnesty International is a partner organisation in this initiative.

Public meeting about mental health stigma and the See Change campaign - Dublin City Council Offices November 1st at 7pm

Friday, 1 October 2010

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