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Mental health stigma and the importance of opening up

What are the first thoughts that come into your mind when you hear the words 'Mental Health'? 10-16 May is Mental Health Awareness week, and we’ve asked our charity partner AWARE to guest feature on our blog and share some of their insights and support this week.


What are the first thoughts that come into your mind when you hear the words 'Mental Health'?

Some common thoughts might be:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Illness

The truth is, we all have mental health and just like our physical health, it is important that we look after it. Today in Northern Ireland, 1 in 4 people will experience an issue with their mental health at some point in their life.

This blog will focus on the stigma that often surrounds mental health and how we can break it down by opening up and talking about our feelings. With the current situation surrounding COVID- 19, we have all been feeling more stressed, anxious and uncertain. The important thing is that we acknowledge these feelings and talk about them with those close to us.

The stigma surrounding mental health

People experiencing mental ill-health often say that the social stigma attached to mental ill-health and the discrimination they experience can make their difficulties worse which in the long run makes it harder to recover.

The more we talk about mental health and educate ourselves and others on the importance of looing after it, the more we can reduce the stigma surrounding it.

The most common mental illnesses are depression and anxiety followed by bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Whilst some people may be genetically predisposed to these illnesses, they can also be triggered by traumatic life events.

Your mental health will vary as circumstances change and you go through different stages in life.

You may experience periods of mental ill-health if you are:

  • Coping with a loss
  • Having relationship problems
  • Being physically ill or caring for someone who is ill
  • Feeling pressure at work

With the uncertainty arising from the impact of COVID-19 and what the future looks like, you may be experiencing some issues with your mental health or you may be worried about someone close to you.

Many more people than usual are reporting feelings of anxiety and depression and there are serious concerns for how we address these mental health issues as we return to some level of normality.

It is important to know that if you are experiencing low mood or anxiety, you are not alone. The best thing you can do is to open up to a friend, family member or your GP and talk about how you are feeling. It is likely that they have experienced something similar or know someone else who has.

The importance of opening-up

According to the Mental Health Organisation, 9 in 10 people with mental health problems say the stigma and discrimination surrounding the topic harms their life. A lot of people feel the need to hide from their mental health issue because historically, mental health was discussed in a negative light.

Some common misconceptions that stigmatise mental health, include:

  • "People with mental health issues are violent and dangerous"
  • "People with mental health issues need to be looked after"
  • "People with mental health issues should be isolated from society"

This is far from reality. AWARE’s mission is to increase public understanding of mental health and reduce the stigma surrounding the illness.

Mental ill-health can affect any of us at any time in our lives. Most people who experience mental health issues can manage them and live a normal life. Getting help early on is important. At AWARE, we offer a range of services from peer support to early stage preventative training that can equip you with the tools to manage your mental wellbeing.

How AWARE can help

  • Peer Support Groups offering help and support for those living with depression, anxiety & bipolar and their families/carers. These run both face-to-face and online.
  • A range of interactive Education & Training Programmes using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy techniques & mindfulness programmes. These programmes can give you the skills and knowledge to manage your mental health and wellbeing.
  • A support email service & telephone line for mental health support, information and signposting.
  • An interactive website & social media platforms offering support and information.

For more information on these services and how to access them, visit AWARE NI's website.