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Mental health stigma reducing, but talking still an issue says NI Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill

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Professor Siobhan O'Neill

Professor Siobhan O'Neill

Professor Siobhan O'Neill

There has been a striking improvement in attitudes towards mental health in Northern Ireland, new research has revealed.

But it comes with a warning that nearly half of the population still find it too difficult to talk about their feelings and emotions.

The study, from Northern Ireland’s Mental Health Champion Professor Siobhan O’Neill, shows that the number of people who don’t talk about their mental health issues has risen to 44% in 2021, from 38% in 2015.

“Unfortunately, in 2015, 48% believed that if a person wanted to end their life they will and there is nothing anybody can do about it. Thankfully this percentage has dropped to 14% in 2021, showing a greater awareness of steps that we can take to prevent suicide,” said Professor O’Neill.

And though suicide stigma has reduced, Professor O’Neill added: “Some of our survey findings are positive. They show that the awareness and education programmes being run across Northern Ireland to improve attitudes are working, and this is likely to translate into people asking for support at an earlier stage.

“However this work must continue. The fact that almost half of those surveyed had difficulty talking about feelings and emotions, and that the proportion increased from 2015, tells us that more needs to be done. Being able to identify and talk about our feelings is fundamental to managing our emotional wellbeing and mental health.

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“Action 2 of the 10-year Mental Health Strategy is a plan to promote mental health though early intervention and prevention, and to reduce mental health stigma,” she continued.

“It’s vital that the strategy is implemented and funded in full, so that we can eradicate stigma and teach people the skills to understand, express and manage their emotions and feelings.”

The findings also confirmed “that prompt access to services is a priority for the population, and primary care has a key role to play,” said Professor O’Neill.

Other key findings show that four in 10 people in Northern Ireland want the Government to prioritise accessible professional mental health services, and GPs remain an important source of help for mental health problems (nearly 50%). One in three (34%) had not sought support from any source if they had emotional or mental health problems in the past three years.

The details are revealed in the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, which is conducted by ARK, a joint initiative of Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.


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