Mental health has a stigma attached. Those affected are misunderstood and even discriminated against, often facing prejudice in the labour market or becoming isolated socially. The portrayal of mental illness in popular culture and the media (see, for example, the recent comic film adaptation “Joker“) don’t always make the situation any better.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people globally will suffer from a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such disorders, meaning that mental health disorders are on of the leading causes of disability and ill-health worldwide.

Given the numbers involved, does society take mental health seriously enough? Should we be spending greater resources supporting mental health services, for example? Should public education be promoted to reduce the stigma around mental health?

What do our readers think? We had a question sent in from a reader called Teabag. He or she thinks that mental illness is still stigmatised and society doesn’t take it seriously enough.

To get a response, we put Teabag’s comment to the German Health Minister (and one of Friends of Europe’s European Young Leaders 2012), Jens Spahn. What would he say?

I agree that mental illness is stigmatised. If somebody has a broken leg, or has cancer, then it is immediately understandable because you can see and understand the problem.

I have witnessed this stigmatisation personally, in my own family. My father experienced mental illness, and it was just a perfectly normal thing that he was suffering from and needed treatment for, just like everybody else when we get sick. But I think that, if we look back over the last ten or twenty years, then really a lot has changed in terms of how we think about mental health, because a lot of well-known public figures have come forward and spoken up about their own experiences with mental health.

To get another perspective, we also spoke to Professor Ella Arensman, who directs research at the National Suicide Research Foundation in Ireland and teaches at the Public Health University College in Cork. What would she say?

Well, if I look back over the last 10-15 years, then, on a positive note, I certainly have observed improvements in terms of attention and emphasis from policymakers, funders, people working in healthcare and community-based settings, in terms of prioritising positive mental health, but also mental ill health, and particularly also funding of projects.

However, if we compare the whole area of mental health to physical health or other specific areas, I think we’re still lagging very much behind. And, even though we are talking here about Europe, a lot of people may not realise that Ireland was one of the last countries in Western Europe were suicidal behaviour was decriminalised, and that was only in 1993. So, we’re still facing many delays, too many blocking factors or barriers, so it’s very justified that there is finally more emphasis and priority on it…

Finally, we put the same question to Esa Ala-Ruona, President of the European Music Therapy Confederation, an organisation representing practitioners of music therapy across the continent. How would he respond?

Well, first of all, my interpretation on ‘taking seriously’ here is that problems are recognised and accepted or acknowledged, and that we have a supporting system on an institutional or governmental level, and that we have enough resources to organise the services for people in need of treatment or therapy.

On a practical level, in everyday life, I think the attitude towards mental health problems has changed quite a bit over the last decade. People are more openly expressing themselves, for example in terms of having depression or other medical conditions under which they need help. The overall attitude towards mental health issues depends on the society itself, and differs between countries. It’s also a cultural phenomenon, which means that we are dealing with the issue on different levels depending on where we live.

So, I would say that the attitude climate is changing all the time towards greater acceptance, and the level of stigma is decreasing.

Does society take mental health seriously? Are mental illness still stigmatised or have we made progress? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: Max Pixel (cc); Portrait Credits: Arensman (c) University College Cork, Esa (c) Tarja Vänskä-Kauhane


27 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Bartek

    Are mental illness still stigmatised or have we made progress? The former

  2. avatar
    Mieke Keppens

    Nowadays, many mental illness cases could be resolved and/or avoided by diversifying and balancing our gut microbiome, and creating a healthy lifestyle… Such a pity we do not recognise and practice this!

  3. avatar
    Colin

    And not most people don’t even understand themselves and their subconscious thinking/motivations and they just get drugged. Serious stigma so much so that people don’t even reflect on themselves. I mean you see so many people who have issues even slight issues but it’s obvious they themselves have no clue

  4. avatar
    Heather

    Still stigmatised.we follow the trend of society,so it’s good to look like we care,when we really dont.I myself do have a mental illness,and have found that many people dont really want to know,its the pressure of society that makes them look like they care.

  5. avatar
    Colin

    I agree with you there’s a lot of egotism in the same way that people film themselves helping the homeless etc or support charities that deal with issues the same people they voted for created. So many hypocrites. Human beings have very little empathy for the most part which is the root cause of most of the world’s problems

  6. avatar
    Jill

    progress has been made, but it is still a difficult decision to make. Telling people you have a mental illness can be used against you, and often is

  7. avatar
    Ruthie

    Well Ive been within the mental health system and have never been stigmatised in my community,with relationships or through educational or employment I think society has moved on leaps and bounds since lock em up days however there is more to be done with the housing situation.I dont mind one bit medication as I realise I need it as I was a hallucinator and thus lost touch for a while the Irish government provides supports for people with serious conditions its come along way and through time we can live independent, financially stable,secure fulfilling lives thanks to the framework of supports available.

    • avatar
      Mary

      Ruthie good you have had a positive experience. .good for you ..unfortunately I have not and I’ve worked as a psychiatric nurse in the mental health service and wow my experience on other side of fence far from what I expected. ..pathetic….judgemental and some colleagues totally ignored me..thankfully there were others that were absolutely brilliant but wow I.know the stigma alive and kicking amongst a percent of some psychiatric nurses…some retired and some currently unfortunately still.at large in.the service.

    • avatar
      Colin

      I think it’s very subjective some people are treated better/more fairly than others

    • avatar
      Mary

      Colin our individual experiences reflects the reality of the mental health service….

  8. avatar
    Guy

    Europe debates too much and do too little ! !

  9. avatar
    Tina

    its still stigmatised which so doesn’t help matters at all

  10. avatar
    Ellen

    Sadly even mental health professionals can stigmatise the people they’re supposed to be helping.
    A family member who was a psychiatric nurse, recently had a very incapacitating dose of depression.
    With huge effort on her part she attended the funeral of a close acquaintance.
    At that funeral two previous work colleagues completely and deliberately ignored her.
    Our only conclusion is that there are people in psychiatric nursing who are totally unfit.

  11. avatar
    Paul

    The biggest form of stigma is self stigma.

  12. avatar
    Bobby

    No,its not taken seriously ,it’s a joke to most people ,until u no someone who’s going thru this deep dark state of mind,its mind wrecking ,should definitely be taken very seriously

  13. avatar
    IIda

    Nothing has changed, normalings keep on creating misconceptions of something they only read about, professionally or not.

  14. avatar
    Mary

    stigma alive and kicking and never fool yourself to think.any different

  15. avatar
    Noeleen

    Progress but a lot more needed

  16. avatar
    Mary

    I too have worked as a psychiatric nurse and also suffered depression and I feel there is a huge stigma within the mental health service..especially the nursing staff..some people go out of their way to avoid you ignore you or pretend they do not see you..if they have the misfortune of being close they utter a fleeting hello …and scoot away as fast as their empathetic caring hpocritical legs will carry them.
    On the other side there are some fantastic caring staff and they act as professionals are supposed to act..and I’m blessed to know them..all in all I’m totally dissaluioned with the service as a whole and the so called professionals that are now retired who should never been in the service and some that are still working.as psyciatric nurses..may you never fall into the hands of one of them..that’s all.I say.

  17. avatar
    Anna

    Mental illness is still stigmatized in today’s Europe… in other words we’re still in the dark ages concerning mental issues in general.. My brother-in-law suffers from psychosis and I see how people mistreat him everywhere… We still have a long way to go and I believe education plays a vital role and informing people about others being different should Start from a very young age…. Of course that is my opinion..

    • avatar
      Colin

      You’re totally correct

  18. avatar
    Colin

    I believe in the outlook that prevention is better than cure

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