95% feel mental illness leads to discrimination

LIVING with a mental health illness means discrimination and unfair treatment, an in-depth survey of people with mental health problems has found.

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.

The study, Hear My Voice, found 95% of participants reporting some level of unfair treatment because of their illness.

The majority of participants (86.2%) reported experiencing distress due to their perception of being discriminated against because of their mental health problem. More than half of participants reported experiencing “a lot” of distress as a result of discrimination.

On average, participants reported unfair treatment in 41% of the 21 questions asked, indicating that these experiences occur across many areas of people’s lives.

Caroline McGuigan, founder and chief executive of Suicide or Survive, lived through mental health problems. According to Ms McGuigan, it’s the little things that hurt. “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. 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,” she said.

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, an author and freelance journalist who has experienced depression, said the fear of prejudice and discrimination silenced him.

“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.”

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, he said.

“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.

“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,” Mr O’Gorman said.

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