Speech for Minister Kathleen Lynch Launch of the See Change ‘Make a Ripple’ Campaign.

I wish to thank John Saunders and his team for inviting me here this evening to the official launch of the See Change Make a Ripple Campaign.

The attendance at this event shows the interest people have in the promotion of positive attitudes to mental health. The launch of this Make a Ripple campaign, with the objective of recruiting a dedicated online community of ambassadors, advocates, story tellers and volunteers will, I am sure, help to contribute to eliminating the stigma so often associated with mental illness.

Listening to Barbara and Caroline talking about their experiences was very interesting and informative and highlights to me the importance of speaking out about our mental health. If people open up about their own experiences it will help others who may be in distress to speak out and seek help. See Change’s vision that every person in Ireland can be open and positive about their mental health cannot come soon enough.

Negative attitudes remain a major obstacle to progress as people with a mental illness are often seen as a hidden minority. What we have to remember it that mental illnesses do not discriminate – they touch every quarter of our society – our friends, our family 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.

Stigma can be the most damaging factor in the life of anyone who has a mental illness. It humiliates, it generates stereotypes and leads to discrimination. The greatest tragedy is that stigma keeps people from seeking help.

Of course, we need to change our attitudes and our thinking about mental health – we need to create an environment that recognises and treats people with mental health problems similarly to other health needs. It is by openly speaking about mental health that we will change attitudes and encourage help seeking.

I would like to acknowledge the work being carried out by the many voluntary and statutory agencies who are involved in the See Change and Make a Ripple campaigns. With increasing demands on services and resources, it is important that we work together and co-ordinate our efforts to tackle this serious issue and create an environment that enables people in distress to seek help. It cannot be done in isolation. We need to develop effective partnerships where we all – policy makers, managers, professionals, service users, carers – can work together to develop a modern and effective mental health service.

I believe that mental health promotion is a key component of any mental health and suicide prevention strategy. We need to make people aware and encourage them to look after their mental health in the same way as they look after their physical health. We need to promote resilience and encourage people to develop coping strategies and in particular to make sure people learn to recognise when professional help is required.

Undoubtedly, the current economic situation is having an effect on people’s mental health and well being. The impact of unemployment and the strain of financial difficulties on physical and mental health are well known. Following job loss, people report higher levels of stress, depression and anger. The loss of personal control and self esteem makes it more difficult at times to keep in contact with friends and colleagues.

The Government has prioritised the reform of mental health service in line with ‘A Vision for Change’. In fact, the Programme for Government makes a number of commitments in relation to mental health, including the ring-fencing of €35 million annually from within the health budget to develop community mental health teams and services.

As the recently appointed Minister of State with responsibility for Mental Health my priority will be to further advance the implementation of ‘A Vision for Change’, and ‘Reach Out’. Both strategies clearly identify the need to build resilience, support the development of services and programmes for everybody, and to reduce the risk of engaging in suicidal behaviour.

Finally, I would like to thank all of those who have been involved in developing and organising this Campaign. I am delighted to lend my support to this very worthwhile initiative and I would like to encourage as many people as possible to go online and become an ambassador or to tell their story. It will help others and as the saying goes ‘it’s good to talk’.

Thank you.