Michael D Higgins this week pledged to break down negative attitudes and discrimination surrounding mental illness if elected president of Ireland.
Welcoming the range of events planned to take place throughout the country to mark World Mental Health Week he stated he would be committed to encouraging inclusion and participation for people living with the condition.
“Surveys of attitudes to mental illness in Ireland have continually demonstrated that there are negative perceptions of mental illness and persons living with mental illness,” he said. “Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD ), which has been signed but not yet ratified by Ireland, deals with awareness-raising. It places an obligation on Ireland, as a signatory to the Convention, to undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures to raise awareness throughout society regarding persons with disabilities and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities.
“This includes an obligation to combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons living with mental illness. I believe the President of Ireland could have an important and effective role to play in this respect. If elected as president I will be committed to breaking down negative attitudes and discrimination, encouraging inclusion and participation for persons living with mental illness and actively and vigorously promoting positive measures to support mental health among all our citizens.”
He outlined that despite “significant” work being done to encourage a culture of positive mental health the high rate of mental illness in Ireland points to the need for much greater efforts to tackle it on an inter-generational and an inter-community basis.
“I am particularly concerned that many young people who experience serious emotional difficulties are not reaching out for help. Lifting the stigma around mental health issues will be crucial to tackling anxiety and fear felt by so many around this issue and reducing the number of people dying by suicide each year.
“According to the World Health Organisation [WHO], mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which people realise their own potential, can cope with normal life stresses, can work productively, and can contribute to their community. Mental health disorders affect nearly 12 per cent of the world’s population, and the WHO estimates that about 450 million - or one out of every four people around the world - may experience a mental illness that would benefit from diagnosis and treatment.
“I would like to congratulate Mental Health Ireland, one of the largest voluntary organisations involved in mental health issues, which will be running two national campaigns again this year - the Building Resilience Together Project and the National Choral Singing Week. These initiatives are powerful examples of inclusion and creativity, values which I believe are essential for our countries future and have strongly emphasised as part of my presidential campaign.”