Survey suggests stigma around mental health may be decreasing in Czechia

Stigma around mental health issues and seeking professional help to deal with them has traditionally been high in Czechia. But a survey suggests attitudes may be changing, even among the older generation.

According to OECD data, Czechia seems at first glance to be a country where people suffer from mental health problems significantly less than elsewhere on the continent – only 15% of the population reported having a mental health problem in 2016, the fourth lowest proportion in Europe.

But the reality may be somewhat different. As the Ministry of Health points out in its Mental Health Action Plan for 2020-2030, the stigmatisation of mental illnesses is still extremely high in Czechia by European standards, both in the general population and among doctors. Because of this, people are afraid to admit that their mental health is suffering, so while it may seem that Czechs are mentally healthier than most of the rest of Europe, this may not be the full picture.

Illustrative Photo: Penn State,  Flickr,  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

However, this stigma may be gradually decreasing, according to a survey commissioned by the Czech Association for Psychotherapy. The Kantar agency who conducted the survey found that one in three people have consulted a mental health specialist at some point in their lives, while two-thirds of respondents said that they would consult a professional if they were not feeling well mentally.

Perhaps surprisingly, age did not play a role in these findings – both younger and older people said they would be equally willing to seek help. However, a factor that did play a significant role was gender – women were far more likely to seek help than men.

Stigma around mental health plays an especially important role for men when deciding whether to see a professional, explains psychologist and member of the Czech Association for Psychotherapy, Tom Mertin.

“Now when there’s a kind of marketing campaign aimed at destigmatising the issue, it will hopefully remove some of the barriers for men, so that they won’t be so afraid of asking for help and that it will become normal for them. It’s essential that they meet other people who already have personal experience with psychotherapy.”

Illustrative Photo: Gerd Altmann,  Pixabay,  CC0 1.0 DEED

Another potentially surprising demographic factor that the survey found played a role in willingness to seek professional help was level of education – people who had dropped out of high school were more likely to turn to an expert than those with a high school diploma or university degree. According to Mertin, this may be because more educated people hold a belief that they have to be self-sufficient and that asking for help is a sign of failure.

The survey also asked the respondents which kind of professional they would go to. The most frequent response was a psychologist, stated in the survey by almost half of respondents, followed by a general practitioner. One fifth said they would visit a psychiatrist and psychotherapist respectively.

Tom Mertin says that even a small number of sessions with a trained professional can be worthwhile.

“Even seemingly short periods of treatment, from one or two to ten hours, are very beneficial. They can have a big effect on how the person views themselves. At the same time, we see that the person will often seek help again after some time.”