I welcome the opportunity to contribute. Deputy Shatter, in addressing the legal aspects of the issue, stated words mattered. I propose to address the other aspects of the issue. Shame and stigma attach to mental illness. In some senses, society psychologically tortures people with mental health difficulties. Cruelty is shown towards people with a mental illness because society misunderstands it. For example, persons who attempt suicide are sworn by their families not to reveal that they have attempted suicide for reasons of shame and embarrassment. Those who suffer mental illness feel stigmatised by the attitudes and views prevailing in society.
The issue in hand is the use of language to stigmatise those who experience mental illness. One in four people will suffer mental illness at some stage in life. It is not, therefore, a rare condition. The language used to describe mental illness is key to changing attitudes towards it and tackling the stigma associated with it. I do not refer only to the word "insane" which is part of the problem but also to words such as "lunatic", "mad", "deranged", "crazy", "daft", "barmy", "crack-brained", "nutcase", etc. These descriptions reinforce the prejudices and misunderstandings many have about mental illness. They also stereotype mentally ill patients, allow people to continue to make fun of individuals suffering mental illness and facilitate continued discrimination against this group.
The amendments proposed by Deputies Shatter and Lynch represent one small advance in demonstrating that we must change our approach to the language used to describe the mentally ill. In previous generations tuberculosis was known as "consumption" because it consumed a person. This term stigmatised those with the disease and is no longer used. We used to refer to cancer as "the big C", a term we no longer hear because the stigma associated with cancer has been removed. What we want to do through the amendment is to take a small step towards removing the stigma associated with mental illness. Language has an important role to play it that regard.
Those in leadership roles must make every effort to educate people to assist them in understanding the pain of mental illness and to seek help. I congratulate the Minister of State on the initiatives he has taken in this regard. I refer specifically to the See Change campaign to open up the area of mental illness, change attitudes and behaviour towards it and reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health problems. As the Minister of State noted, the vision for the See Change campaign is to have a country in which every person has an open and positive attitude to his or her mental health and that of others. The objective of the programme which the Minister of State is rolling out all over the country and on which he is to be congratulated is to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems, challenge discrimination and create an environment in which people will be more open and positive in their attitudes and behaviour towards mental health.
The Minister of State will not be embarrassed if I cite a statement he made on the See Change campaign. He stated:
One of the most significant problems encountered by people with mental health problems is the misunderstanding of what it actually means. This can be deeply hurtful and isolating. Learning to live with mental health problems is extremely difficult, but this difficulty can be compounded when someone experiences, at first hand, the prejudice caused by stigma. It can also be distressing for the families and friends of those persons.
Eliminating the misunderstanding associated with mental ill health will not happen overnight. However the "See Change" campaign has the potential to effect change within Irish society and help lay the necessary foundations for a real and positive transformation of how mental illness is perceived.
The Minister of State needs to take a risk with regard to the advice he is taking. He must use the Bill in a small but important way to highlight the need to change our attitudes towards mental illness and the language we use to describe it in order that we challenge the prejudices associated with the illness. I ask him to accept the amendments proposed by Deputies Shatter and Lynch, move away from language such as "insanity", "lunatic", "daft" and the various other terms I used and change the Bill to send a message that things must change.