Irish people ‘shy away from discussing mental illness’

We are happy to discuss our emotional problems, but not mental illness, according to the findings of a survey of 1,000 Irish adults.

We’re also more at ease admitting to having a physical illness with almost six in 10 ready to do so compared to just one in 10 feeling comfortable with the idea of being mentally ill.

The research, carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes on behalf of the Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy found 85% of respondents felt it was easier, nowadays, to talk about emotional problems than it was in the past.

“These results clearly show that we have come a long way in discussing emotional problems like depression and stress and this is a hugely positive development,” said the association’s spokesman, Shane Kelly.

“However, we are concerned that over 90% of people are uncomfortable with the concept of being mentally unwell.

“It shows that mental illness is still, to an overwhelming extent, stigmatised in the public’s mind.”

In saying that, Mr Kelly said a third of respondents said it made no difference to them whether they were classified as mentally or physically ill.

The survey also found women open up more about stress or depression than men, with almost three in five women saying they talk to a friend compared to fewer than two in five men.

Mr Kelly said that the association was concerned about the volume of respondents who had difficulty with the notion of being mentally ill, especially in relation to males.

The association said that continuing dialogue could help to offset the perceived stigma around mental health illness.

It advised that people who found it difficult to talk to a friend should consider speaking to a doctor or an Irish Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy- accredited counsellor/ psychotherapist.

Consultant psychiatrist Siobhán Barry said that, for many people, mental illness “suggests a persistent and troubling life-long health condition”.

“Yet many of those who avail of mental health services make an excellent recovery and optimise their mental health once they gain an understanding of causes or triggers and address those factors thus ameliorating their distress,” said Dr Barry.

She said depression and becoming overwhelmed with stress “tends to be an episodic issue for many with very many practical ways of participating in one’s recovery by reducing the impact of these difficulties”.

“For example, taking small but gradual amounts of physical exercise, eating small, regular and balanced meals, spending periods each day doing things that used to be enjoyed,” she said.

The association is the largest representative organisation for the counselling and psychotherapy profession in the State, with almost 4,000 members.


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