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Mongan, Deirdre (2007) Public attitudes to mental health. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 23, Autumn 2007 , pp. 20-21.

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In January 2007, the National Office for Suicide Prevention of the Health Service Executive commissioned research on public attitudes to mental health.1 One thousand adults were interviewed in their own homes in January and February 2007. The overall objective of this research was to obtain a comprehensive view of attitudes to mental health, which will be used to inform a mental health awareness and attitudes campaign as set out in Action 10.1 of Reach Out, the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention.  

The survey found that more than eight in ten Irish adults (86%) considered their overall quality of life to be ‘good’ or ‘very good’.  However, this fell to 64% among those who had experienced mental health problems themselves.  There was also some discontent with certain aspects of our society today, with 62% believing that ‘these days people don’t really know who they can count on’, and 44% agreeing that ‘people were better off in the old days when everyone knew how they were expected to act’.  These feelings were more acutely felt by the over-35s.  

Only 11% reported having experienced mental health problems themselves; the authors felt that this figure could be an understatement, in view of the sensitivity of the issue. Most experts agree that, in reality, one in four people experience a mental health problem at some stage in their lives.  Twenty-three per cent reported having cared for or being related to someone who had mental health problems.  Those working in the home and those who were separated, divorced or widowed tended to have more direct experience of mental health problems.  Fifty-nine per cent claimed to have no direct or indirect experience of mental health problems.  

While a substantial proportion of people (85%) agreed that ‘anyone can experience mental health problems’, this report reveals that stigma still exists in relation to mental health.  Sixty-two per cent of respondents would not want people knowing about it if they themselves were experiencing mental health problems; 52% agreed that people with mental health problems should not be allowed to do important jobs, as doctors or nurses, for instance; and just 48% believed that the majority of people with mental health problems do recover. 

Opinion was quite polarised on some issues related to mental health and there appeared to be fear among the general public surrounding mental health problems.  Thirty-nine per cent felt that the public should be better protected from people with mental health problems; 36% felt that people with mental health problems were often dangerous; and 33% admitted that they would find it hard to talk to someone with mental health problems.  However, 65% agreed that people with mental health problems were not to blame for their problems and 43% feared that they themselves might experience mental health problems in the future.  Overall, there appeared to be an inherent acceptance that we are all potentially vulnerable to mental health problems. 

There was an under-estimation of the prevalence of mental health problems in Ireland.  Two-thirds estimated a prevalence of one in ten or less, while only 5% estimated a prevalence of one in four.  Suicide (25%), alcoholism (19%) and depression (19%) were identified as the top three most important mental health problems that needed to be tackled in Ireland.  Drug dependence was cited by 13% as the single most important health problem in Ireland.  Men were more likely than women to identify alcoholism (22% vs. 19%) or drug dependence (17% vs. 13%) as the most important mental health problem.  

The majority of Irish adults (74%) would consult their GP if they thought they had a mental health problem, and one in five would also turn to close friends or family for support.  Specialist medical services, including those of counsellors, therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, were considered less obvious sources of support.  Those who had experienced mental health problems were most likely to seek support from their GP, counsellor/therapist and close friends.  

This report identified a number of key areas where targeted education and awareness are required.  These include education of the public on the true prevalence of mental health problems, focusing on eroding the stigma in relation to mental health, and increasing personal awareness of mental health. 

1. National Office for Suicide Prevention (2007) Mental health awareness and attitudes survey.  Dublin: Health Service Executive.

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 23, Autumn 2007
Date:July 2007
Page Range:pp. 20-21
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 23, Autumn 2007
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Available)
Subjects:G Health and disease > State of health > Mental health
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Political process > Public opinion

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