Friday 6 December 2019

Mental illness stigma persists

I refer to the article in last Saturday's Irish Independent by Mary Kenny entitled "Spending public money on mental health problems is not necessarily a good prescription".

May I suggest that her arguments are based on false assumptions and poor knowledge of mental ill-health and mental healthcare services.

Ireland has traditionally had a mental healthcare system based on institutional care, while it is at present in transformation to a modern community-based mental healthcare service where the emphasis is on supporting the person with the mental illness and the family in their own community.

This transformation is underpinned by mental health policy as described in 'A Vision for Change'.

One of the main concerns in recent years is the continued reduction in public expenditure in mental healthcare services vis-à-vis other healthcare expenditure. At present, mental healthcare services use approximately 5.3pc of the total healthcare budget, in contrast to 7pc in 2007 and a much higher percentage in previous years.

Some of the reasons for reductions are positive -- like the closure of large institutions -- but in recent years the fall in expenditure has been the result of HSE embargoes and public service embargoes on recruitment in healthcare.

It is generally agreed that the mental healthcare service has taken a significant and disproportionate reduction in the number of posts.

There is an urgent need to increase expenditure to respond to the critical and often acute needs of people with severe mental health problems and to ensure that new models of service provision can be provided.

Contrary to Ms Kenny's assertion, stigma in mental health is a significant barrier to the full recovery and inclusion of people with experience of mental health problems and their families in the community.

In April of this year research was conducted by See Change, the National Mental Health Stigma Reduction programme, on Irish attitudes to mental illness (Millward Brown See www.seechange.ie) and by the Amnesty International (Ireland) "Hear My Voice" report (See www.amnesty.ie/).

Both of these reports clearly illustrate the degree to which stigma and its consequences -- prejudice and discrimination -- exist in Ireland.

John Saunders
Director of Shine and See Change,
Blessington Street, Dublin 7

Irish Independent

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