Jackie Mellese (communication manager, Mental Health Europe), highlights the importance of reducing discrimination and stigma associated with mental ill-health.
The WHO recently declared that Europe has entered the age of “permacrisis” stretching beyond the pandemic, war, climate change and economic uncertainty. This ongoing volatility and uncertainty resulting in a prolonged sense of emergency will impact people’s mental health. Social determinants (employment, housing, education, etc.) are critical to mental health and wellbeing. Following the pandemic, we have witnessed an increase in the number of people facing anxiety and depression. More people than ever (1 out of 4 in Europe) are now experiencing poor mental health.
In the context of these multiple crises, we must prioritize mental health. The only silver lining of Covid-19 is that mental health is finally considered as important as physical health. This could benefit in helping to prioritize it in policymaking. Such a dire situation will require a ‘Mental Health in All Policies’ approach, which calls for a focus on mental health promotion, preventive actions, quality care and social inclusion.
Besides actions at policy level, mental health stigma and discrimination must be tackled through global action according to the new Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health.
This Lancet report details how stigma and discrimination make mental health problems worse. Co-produced by people who have lived experience, the report reveals that many people describe stigma worse than the mental health distress itself. Being pervasive across societies and cultures, stigma and discrimination delay or stop people from getting needed help. The scope of the problem infringes basic human rights and results in the marginalization and exclusion of individuals from society.
It is probable we all know someone with mental health problems, sometimes without even being aware of it, because people feel they cannot talk openly about their mental health challenges. This is what stigma does. It is a strong negative attitude around mental health. Furthermore, stigma and discrimination often go hand in hand, making people’s problems worse.
One way of tackling stigma is to normalize conversations around mental health. This can be done by strengthening our understanding of mental health as well as improving public attitude towards it. MHE counters mental health-related stigma and discrimination through public awareness campaigns such as the European Mental Health Week in May and World Mental Health Day in October. MHE’s flagship European Mental Health Week is an annual event creating an opportunity for everyone to focus on achieving good mental health.
These yearly events offer the setting for everyone to speak up about all aspects of mental health, share personal stories of how to cope with difficulties in times of crisis and in general, and highlight the need for action. People with lived experience are especially encouraged to share their personal story about their mental health journey. Putting the voices of people with lived experience of mental health problems at the centre of the campaign is in line with the Lancet’s latest report about ending stigma and discrimination as well as the WHO’s approach.
According to the WHO, “anti-stigma interventions around the world are most effective when they directly involve people with lived experience in all aspects of their production. We must put the voices of people with lived experience of mental health problems centre stage".
This is an approach that we all can wholeheartedly support.