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!