What can be done?
There have, to date, been many initiatives to reduce the impact of stigma by challenging inaccurate representations in the media and by humanising the real facts about mental health problems. It may never be possible to totally eliminate inaccurate and hurtful comments, actions and headlines. It is, however, already evident that as people with self-experience and their families speak up and out about their experiences, people listen and many relate with empathy to those experiences.
The Irish mental health sector has witnessed some recent developments, which include, inter alia:
- A Vision for Change (the policy document formulated by the Mental Health Expert Group launched in 2006, replacing the existing 1984 policy)
- Creation of the National Service User Executive
- NGOs working closely together (Irish Mental Health Coalition, Action on Suicide Alliance, Amnesty’s mental health campaign)
- NOSP’s ‘Your Mental Health’ awareness campaign (and Reach Out)
- Other campaigns (Northern Ireland, NDA (2007), Bodywhys etc)
- The Mental Health Act 2001 being fully implemented
- Mental Health Commission
- Research on attitudes (St Patrick’s Hospital, College of Psychiatry of Ireland)
- Establishment of organisations that compliment such a stigma reduction programme (e.g. Headline, Inspire Ireland, Headstrong, SpunOut.ie etc)
Against this background, the environment is one in which the public is likely to be more receptive to mental health messages. This is due in large part to the various mental health organisations’ work in this area, and to the NOSP’s positive mental health awareness campaign, ‘Your Mental Health’ which focuses on disseminating a positive mental health message through mainstream media advertising, online activity, distribution of the campaign information booklet and collaboration with partner organisations.
Significant drivers exist to encourage organisations to work closely together to tackle stigma (e.g. Irish Mental Health Coalition, Action on Suicide Alliance, Amnesty’s mental health campaign, NOSP’s ‘Your Mental Health’ advisory group, etc), because they have the experience of doing so already. Many of the organisations that comprise these alliances work at the grass roots level, which will be important in helping to communicate the See Change programme messages within local communities.
Additionally, there have been some well received international stigma reduction programmes within the English speaking world, which have proven to be making a positive impact – and from which the See Change programme can learn from.
 Taking Control of Your Mental Health, Shine, 2009.