A pair of newly published polls have revealed how people across the island of Ireland perceive mental illness. In response to figures highlighted by the research, Inspire has launched the If It’s Okay campaign, which focuses on the voices of individuals with lived experience of shame stemming from mental illness.

Two surveys, covering 1,000 adults in Northern Ireland (NI) and the Republic of Ireland (RoI), were carried out by Censuswide during late February 2024. They found that 14% of those polled in the North would be strongly or somewhat concerned about working alongside someone who is living with mental illness. In RoI, the number here was 20%. By contrast, 64% of people in NI disagree with that contention – as do 60% of workers on the other side of the border. The strongest expressions of support, in both jurisdictions, came from women and people aged 45 and older.

Elsewhere, 64% of NI respondents with experience of mental illness have felt shame because of it, while 55% think that the level of related stigma has decreased over the last five years. Their peers in RoI offered similar feedback on these respective questions: 59% and 58%.

Majorities in NI and RoI (53%; 57%) said that mental ill health is negatively portrayed in the media and that there is still a great deal/fair amount of shame associated with the subject (54%; 60%).

“It’s okay not to be okay” is one of the most well-used lines in mental health campaigning but, for many facing mental illness, this does not always ring true.

Inspire – a member of the Anti-Stigma Alliance alongside MindSee Me Scotland and Time to Change Wales – is now using the new campaign to appeal to everyone to mean it when they say, “It’s okay not to be okay”. It is also appealing to the public, including people in workplaces everywhere, to challenge shame and discrimination directed against those living with mental health diagnoses.

It also aims to understand what the “It’s okay…” phrase might actually mean for a person living with mental illness.


Kerry Anthony MBE, CEO of Inspire, said:

“Inspire supports over 25,000 people a year and many of them live with serious mental illnesses. We hear about how their friends, families, communities and even their GPs can make them feel ashamed. But we also know about how they feel ashamed of themselves.

“This campaign is about challenging the narrative that many of us know and employ so often. We aren’t saying that the phrase ‘It’s okay not to be okay’ is wrong. However, the question we’re asking is this: if it’s okay not to be okay then why are people still encountering shame and discrimination around their mental health diagnoses?

“We are here to say that living with mental ill health does not mean that they are alone. Nor should they feel shame. We are here to help and support them.

“As a society, we have a long way to go. Over half the population believes that mental illness and shame are linked. We want to send a clear message that nobody should be ashamed of their mental ill health.

“By reflecting on our own attitudes and behaviours, we can develop self-awareness. Whether it’s thinking about the language we use, educating ourselves or reaching out for support, we can all play a role in changing lives for the better.”

For information about If It’s Okay, including advice and information for anyone living with mental ill health, click here. Follow the conversation on social media, via #IfItsOkay.

If you would like find out more about Inspire’s workplace wellbeing services, head over to this page. You can also reach out to us via e-mail: enquiries@inspirewellbeing.org.

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