Campaign launched against stigmatising mental health issues

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Ljubljana – The National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ) has launched a national campaign against stigmatisation of mental health issues that in particular aims at encouraging people with such issues to seek help. A round table debate on Monday called for systemic changes to provide these people with access to services and support.

The campaign, launched on World Mental Health Day and held under the motto You Are Not OK? Do Tell, featured the round table debate, at which public mental health expert Matej Vinko said that the stigma was present at several levels.

He said that people who lived with a mental issue were stigmatised, as well as seeking help itself. “Our entire world is intertwined with a certain view of mental health”, he said, adding that mental health was a life-long process.

According to Vinko, the most assistance needs to be provided in the earliest stage of an individual’s life.

One of the ambassadors of the campaign, tattoo artist, mountain rescuer and musician Sašo Dudić, who himself has faced mental issues, said that he had been facing stigma all the time, and that the largest problem of distress was that it had a domino effect.

Dudić said that it was of key importance to provide an individual with right assistance. But as long as people with mental issues are treated by society the same as people with a broken arm, there will be no progress in this field, he added.

Vinko noted that the indicators of mental health had deteriorated during the Covid-19 epidemic, which had impacted mental health of individuals in a very complex manner, with the groups of people with past mental issues being the most vulnerable.

Head of the project Branko Gabrovec said that the epidemic was an opportunity for systemic changes when it came to the rights and access in healthcare, including in mental health.

“How can we tell someone to speak up about their issues, about them not feeling well, if help is not available,” he wondered, noting that waiting times for examination by a clinical psychologist range from 15 to 17 months.

The NIJZ also said on the occasion of World Mental Health Day, observed yesterday, that many people with a mental issue or disease did not receive the treatment they were eligible for, and that they and their families and caretakers still experienced stigma and discrimination.

The Šent association for mental health added that people in rural areas had considerably poorer access to assistance programmes than people in urban areas, and that inequality was further increasing, in particular due to the epidemic.

Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina meanwhile called for more decisive action. “We as society lag behind when it comes to care for mental health,” he said, adding that the situation was far from being satisfactory.

What is seen as decades of neglect of this field in Slovenia has lead to a faulty system of care for mental health, which is facing shortage of specialists, child psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, and lack of systemic financing of specialisations.

The National Assembly confirmed three years ago a national programme on mental health until 2028, which is the first organised and comprehensive approach to protecting and improving mental health of the entire population.

Its initiator Jožica Maučec Zakotnik, however, said that “currently we are faced with an escalation of issues in mental health, also due to the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic, and with the even more limping systems of healthcare, education and welfare”.