Minister Moloney speaks at the Traveller Counselling Service AGM

I would like to thank Thomas McCann for inviting me to officially open the Traveller Counselling Service AGM this morning.

The provision of culturally sensitive health services is essential in order to ensure that all those who are in need of help will seek help. The HSE developed the National Intercultural Health Strategy 2007 – 2012 with a view to facilitating the delivery of healthcare services in an inclusive, respectful and fair way to minority communities.

The Strategy was developed following a wide-ranging consultation process with a range of minority ethnic organisations, such as community based and advocacy organisations, refugees, asylum seekers and Travellers as well as health sector and HSE clinicians and staff. The consultations highlighted the need for the strategy to be underpinned by the principles of equality, social inclusion, involvement and participation of minority ethnic communities, community-based approaches and quality user-focussed services.

‘A Vision for Change’ our mental health policy, acknowledges that stigma and discrimination are the underlying causes of social exclusion and one of the greatest barriers to social inclusion.

The Report recognises the importance of responding, in an appropriate manner, to the mental health needs of minority groups. It states that culturally sensitive mental health services will be aware of the different understanding of such things as mental health, mental health services, healing, family structure, sexuality and spirituality that exist in other cultures.

As Minister of State with responsibility for Disability and Mental Health, I am very keen to promote and reinforce the message of positive mental health. Recently, I was pleased to launch on behalf of the Crosscare National Traveller Suicide Awareness Project, a training pack for Traveller youth workers, a game which promotes discussion around difficult situations, posters designed by Traveller youth and the Bodywhys cd-rom ifigure which focuses on body image and self-esteem. Getting young people involved in designing support services that work for them is an excellent way to reach different target groups.

Mental illness is a common problem which can affect up to one in four of us at any time in our lives. Clearly, therefore, mental health is not a marginal issue.

We know that there are many things that we can do to nurture mental health and well-being both in a preventive way and to assist recovery.

We need to listen to what people are telling us about the things that cause them stress and mental distress whether that is the loneliness of an older person in a remote rural area or the experience of discrimination of a member of an ethnic minority group or of the Traveller community.

At community level there is a strong association between positive mental health and social supports in the community. Social networks that bring people from excluded groups together with the majority in pursuit of common aims can help break down stereotypes and prejudice and build trust and a sense of belonging.

One of my priorities for this year is to tackle the stigma that is so often associated with mental illness. For too long there has been a lack of openness in relation to mental health and consequently many mental health problems have remained unacknowledged, unrecognised and untreated.

Stigma is I believe the most damaging factor in the life of anyone who has a mental illness. Stigma often keeps people from seeking help for fear of being labelled ‘mentally ill’.

In an effort to challenge this discrimination and demystify mental illness, I launched the ‘See Change’ Stigma Reduction campaign earlier this year. ‘See Change’ is working to positively change social attitudes and behaviour, so that there is a reduction of stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems and to ensure that everyone enjoys the same rights on an equal basis.

I am very hopeful that the campaign will help to create an environment where people are more open and positive in their attitudes and behaviour towards mental health and promote greater understanding, acceptance and support for people with mental health problems. It will also I hope, empower people with experience of mental health problems to gain equality, respect and rights.

‘See Change’ will work to raise public awareness of the existence and impact of stigma and discrimination through a media campaign, using national organisations to promote its message. It will also work through a network of national and local organisations across the country that will carry the message through local broadcasts, local print media and a range of other activities. In Ennis, we recently held the first in a series of ‘Town Hall’ meetings as part of the campaign. The success of the Ennis meeting gives me great hope that this campaign will succeed. I also like to believe that it provides evidence that Irish society is ready and willing to change and that, I can assure you, gives me great comfort. I am a realist and I know that it will take some time to eliminate the stigma associated with mental health problems. However I firmly believe that the ‘See Change’ campaign has the potential to effect change within Irish society and help lay the necessary foundations for a real and positive transformation of how mental illness is perceived.

Finally, I thank you once again for inviting me here today to contribute to your AGM and I wish you well with your deliberations. I am confident that the work you have undertaken will continue to have a positive impact and thus enhance the well-being and quality of life for many people.