October 1, 2007

Some view mental illness positively

 Irish Health

Angela Long

A majority of people with mental illness feel it has had a bad effect on both their social relationships and careers, a survey published today confirms.

More than seven in 10 people questioned for the Living With Mental Illness in Ireland survey said their condition had negatively affected their relationships. Nearly two thirds, at 64%, said their job prospects had been damaged.

But while three-quarters of the respondents said their mental illness was a bad thing, a surprising one in five (21%) viewed it positively, as an experience that had given them insight and depth. “That is surprising, but a testament to the resilience in people’s lives,” said Patricia Casey, consultant psychiatrist, from the Mater hospital and University College Dublin.

Prof Casey and John Sanders of Schizophrenia Ireland presented the report today as a lead-up to World Mental Health Day on October 10.

Most of the subjects of the survey suffered from schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder.

The survey is the result of interviews with 280 people in Ireland. A similar survey with patients in six other countries, the US, Canada, France, Spain, Italy and the UK, was also assessed and the responses compared with those in Ireland. The interviews were done in the middle of last year.

Generally people in Ireland felt there was more of a stigma on mental ill-health than in other countries, especially Spain and Italy.

Prof Casey said the survey’s main aims were to assess the impact of medication for mental illness, how illness affected patients and their families, and how people felt about media portrayals of mental illness.

Over three quarters of the sample had suffered from their illness for more than 10 years. But an even larger number, at 88%, had only been diagnosed within the past five years.

“There is obviously a delay in diagnosis, particularly with schizophrenia,” Prof Casey said. “The earlier a mental illness is diagnosed, the better the prognosis.”

She said most people (86%) were chiefly treated by a psychiatrist, while half mainly saw a GP.

Psychologists had a low utilisation rate, which was not a good thing. Prof Casey said that in her own geographical health area there were three psychiatrists but only one psychologist to work with patients, which was not enough.

She said another worrying trend, reported by the survey, was that psychiatrists tended to become responsible for all health problems in a patient, even where they were physical and not mental complaints.

“Psychiatrists tend to take over all treatment, which adds to the separation of people with mental illness from the rest of the population, and I don’t think that is very healthy,” she said.

She also referred to the inadequacy of cover by mental health services in Ireland, where only two out of 32 HSE areas have the full complement of psychiatric staff.

“Waiting times in my area are six to nine months. That is of no assistance when people need treatment. By the time they get their appointment the problem will have passed, or gotten much worse,” she said.