Minister Moloney’s opening address “Delivering the Future of Mental Healthcare” at the National Mental Healthcare Conference

I would like to thank Investnet for the invitation to open this conference this morning.

As Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health, my objective is to ensure that we provide a person-centred, recovery oriented, mental health service. I am committed to improving the lives of people affected by mental illness in whatever way possible. ‘A Vision for Change’, our mental health policy, proposes a new model of service delivery which is patient-centred, flexible and community based. Of course much has changed economically since our policy was launched in 2006, but I believe that it remains a progressive document and remains our roadmap, charting the way forward for our mental health services. We are making progress on the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’ but I am aware that Bairbre Nic Aongusa, Director of the Office for Disability and Mental Health is scheduled to speak on this topic this afternoon, so I better not steal her thunder.

I would however like to take the opportunity to outline my own priority for this year, which is to tackle the stigma which 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. Why? I believe that it is because of the stigma associated with mental illness and consequently stigma remains a major obstacle to our progress.

People with a mental illness are a hidden minority who suffer from pervasive discrimination. But mental illnesses do not discriminate – they touch every quarter of our society – our friends, our familes, our colleagues or maybe even ourselves. 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.

Regrettably the subject of mental health has traditionally been surrounded by myth and stigma. Negative attitudes towards people with mental health problems and fears that such people represent a danger to the community are common. Such perceptions increase social distance and ultimately lead to social exclusion.

Stigma is I believe the most damaging factor in the life of anyone who has a mental illness. It humiliates and embarrasses; it is painful, it generates stereotypes, fear and rejection and leads to terrible discrimination. The greatest tragedy is that stigma 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 Ireland’s national programme 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. Only this week in Ennis we held the first in a series of ‘Town Hall’ meetings as part of the campaign. I was very heartened by the response we received. Almost 200 people from all walks of life, service users, their families and various organisations attended the event and we had a very lively questions and answers session. Lots of issues were raised which gives us plenty of food for thought and will inform, enlighten and energise 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.

I thank you for your attention this morning and urge all here to lend their support to the See Change campaign. Together we can make a difference; we can make change happen.