Agenda: It’s time to talk about mental health stigma

IT’S in headlines almost daily, the topic of documentaries, a staple of our social media feeds and a regular talking point for sports personalities and celebrities – mental health has never been more prominent in public life. As the director of See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination, this is good news – but there is still much more for us to do. And by that, I mean all of us.

Today is Time to Talk Day, the day that friends, families, communities and workplaces come together to talk, listen and change lives.

New research has found that one in four Scots who experienced a worsening of their mental health for the first time during the pandemic have yet to speak about it.

Two of the main reasons given for this were that everyone is struggling just now, so why should they be any different, and that they didn’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health.

Despite everything we’ve been through as a nation, and all the prominent conversations that have taken place, mental health stigma – and self-stigma – still exist.

Public stigma comes from the negative attitudes and prejudice that members of the public display towards people who experience mental health problems and illness, while self-stigma comes from people internalising these public attitudes and beliefs, which can lead to feelings of worthlessness, shame or fear of speaking out.

In the last year, I’ve spoken to people who have called for help in the midst of a mental health crisis to be told to go for a walk; whose families have either been unable or unwilling talk to them about the issues they’re facing; who don’t feel safe to tell their employer about their mental health; who are dismissed, labelled as “attention seekers” and scared to speak out, or treated differently when they do. In 2022, this shouldn’t be happening.

Last year at See Me, we launched the See Us movement to end mental health stigma and discrimination in Scotland.

For too long, tackling mental health stigma and discrimination has been viewed as the responsibility of the people who experience it – but it’s on all of us to do what we can to tackle prejudice, change behaviours and work to ensure no one is treated unfairly as a result of their mental health.

Stigma and fear of discrimination stop people from reaching out and getting help when they need it. For some, it can be the difference between life and death.

Time to Talk Day can act as a starting point for all of the important, supportive conversations that need to happen.

Whether you have direct experience of a mental health problem or not, we’re calling on you to take action. Whether you’re texting someone you haven’t spoken to in a while today, grabbing a coffee with a friend, or having a frank discussion with your manager, it’s time to talk – and I hope that all the conversations today are just the start of something even bigger for Scotland.

Wendy Halliday is the director of See Me, Scotland’s programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination. Get tools and resources to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination where you are at

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