Did you know, that in Finland women who have had treatment in a hospital because of mental health issues, live approximately 15 years, and men 20 years below the average life expectancy? And this is partly because of the stigma and prejudices related to mental illnesses. Negative attitudes are excluding those who are suffering from mental health issues and putting them in weaker position in social and health care: Even though 25% all sick leaves are because of mental health issues, only 7-8% of the social and health care resources are directed to the mental health problems. There is a big mismatch!
Unfortunately, also media likes to nourish these prejudices we have about mentally ill people. E.g. often violent acts are linked to mental health problems, even though people with mental health illnesses are not in any greater risk to behave violently.
When I was doing my first practise placement in a daycentre for mental health rehabilitees, there was an occasion when I was given a hint how this stigma actually feels like: The daycentre had a regular weekly hour playing pool in the Billiard centre in Helsinki. Before I got in with few guys I was going to play pool with – and who were visiting there every week-, I went to the cafe nearby to get my Café Latte. When we stepped in, the lady behind the cashier was telling me off because I had brought my own drinks. Which would had been ok and understandable – if the tone she used would have been like the tone people usually use when speak to each other-, but it was not! In my 38 years, I have never been talked the way she was talking to me. She was super rude and was speaking to me like I was a total imbecile!
I was puzzled and hurt of the mistreatment I had experience, so I made a complaint to the lady’s boss. The boss was really sorry, and gave us a free hour, but I doubt if any change happened in this lady’s attitude. I can only hope so!
How these attitudes and prejudices could be reduced? Other Nordic countries have had quite successful projects, where encounters have been made, either face to face or through the media. Instead of negative, attention-seeking news, they have chosen people with mental health issues to tell their stories in media. In Norway, children in schools and day cares are given information and education about mental health issues. So maybe along many other good ideas, Finland should take a leaf out of its western neighbour`s book.