Bulgarian Group Combats Mental Health Stigma

The Кожа (Skin) not for profit group in Bulgaria works primarily as a campaigning and advocacy group for people with mental illness. For a country of nearly 7 million people, the group calculates that there are only around 500 psychiatrists. One part of their site therefore lists sources of mental health support and therapists. Throughout their site there is large emphasis on addressing mental health stigma and normalising mental health issues.

Deep-dive with celebrities

To fight stigma, over time, they have built up a series of online interviews with Bulgarian celebrities, from broadcasters to journalists and academics. These faces are so familiar in Bulgaria that you navigate the interviews by clicking on the portraits of the contributors spread along a timeline.

The questions posed are often both direct and potentially deep, for example:

  • Tell me about your fears? What scares you?
  • What does it mean for you to know yourself, and how important it is?
  • What does a mentally healthy person mean to you and what does `crazy’ mean?

Some of the responses from the celebrities are quite personal and intimate, and in some cases share experience on phobias, body image, and views on non-binary, transgender and transexual life.

As the organisation’s name translates as `skin’, interviews tend to close on the questions:

  • What gets you out of your skin? (annoys you)
  • Tell me 3 things that make you feel good in your skin?
  • Why is being in your body the best place you can be? 
Surveying patient experiences

In September, the group surveyed a sample of 807 Bulgarian adults for their perceptions of mental health in Bulgaria. Reporting the survey in October, the group identified some examples of mental health stigma:

  • “45%..say that if someone in our country admits a mental health problem, others will start avoiding them.”
  • 39% believe that taking anti-depressants is “a personal problem and should not be shared”
  • 25% “would agree with the statement ‘people who suffer from depression just need to pull themselves together’”.
Normalising through support

Although the group has only been in existence for a few years, they have already built up a range support resources through social media, online and available to download. For example, they created an online picture story book called `inner voices’. 

This is available in English, and through a vivid picture story appears to normalise concepts such as:

  • Recognising when our inner voices are critical and self-defeating
  • Understanding where these `punishing voices’ come from
  • Developing strategies to deal with these thoughts.

NEXT STEPS:

Visit the website for Кожа at…

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View interview responses on mental health from Bulgarian celebrities at…

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View the English version of the storybook “Inner voices” at…

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Find out about the group’s survey into mental health in Bulgaria at…

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Visit Mental Health Europe at…

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