Survey: Mental health patients 'shunned'

Nearly all mental health patients have been treated unfairly because of their condition, a survey revealed today.

Nearly all mental health patients have been treated unfairly because of their condition, a survey revealed today.

A report by Amnesty International said it had uncovered uncomfortable truths, stigma and hidden prejudice affecting people in work, at home and among friends.

Colm O’Gorman, Amnesty’s executive director in Ireland, called on Government agencies to investigate the true extent of the problem.

“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.

He added: “In Ireland there is no clear evidence of overt direct discrimination by the state in its laws, policies or practices. The real issue however is the hidden, indirect discrimination and inequality people face.

“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.”

Dublin City University’s School of Nursing interviewed 300 patients on behalf of Amnesty and found devastating levels of discrimination and prejudice and a lack of care across society.

- A total of 95% of participants reported unfair treatment because of a mental health problem and subsequently 86% suffered distress.

- Almost two thirds were shunned because of a mental health problem.

- In their home life, 61% reported being treated unfairly by family.

- On the employment front, 43% said they were treated unfairly when it came to keeping a job, a third felt unfairly treated in applying for work and as a result two thirds decided not to apply for work.

The Amnesty report, Hear my voice: challenging prejudice and discrimination, was published as part of the organisation’s mental health and human rights campaign.

Mr O’Gorman said at the heart of the study were personal accounts of the suffering.

Caroline McGuigan, founder and chief executive of Suicide or Survive, lived through mental health problems herself.

She said: “It’s not the big things that stay with you, it’s the little things. 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.

“It became, ’You are mentally unwell and this is all you are capable of’.”

“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.”

Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, an author and freelance journalist who experienced depression, said: “Fear of prejudice and discrimination silenced me. 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.”

More in this section