It's Time We Changed Our Attitude to Mental Ill-Health; Wales Is the Only Part of Great Britain without an Anti-Stigma Campaign to Challenge Stereotypes about Mental Health, as Health Editor Madeleine Brindley Reports

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), December 15, 2010 | Go to article overview

It's Time We Changed Our Attitude to Mental Ill-Health; Wales Is the Only Part of Great Britain without an Anti-Stigma Campaign to Challenge Stereotypes about Mental Health, as Health Editor Madeleine Brindley Reports


Byline: Madeleine Brindley

IT'S widely recognised one in four people will suffer from some form of mental distress at some point in their lives.

And yet despite this growing awareness of just how common mental ill health is, we remain reluctant to treat it in the same way as physical ailments.

We sympathise with people when they are confined to bed with flu; offer help and assistance when they break a limb and rally round when someone's diagnosed with cancer.

But when someone's diagnosed with depression, bipolar disorder or some form of psychosis? We use derogatory language to describe the affliction; we write off their life chances and avert our eyes, while questioning how safe care in the community really is.

And even when statistics show people with a serious mental illness are more likely to be the victim of violent crime than to be the perpetrator, the rare occasions when people who are mentally ill have attacked others cloud our understanding of what it is to have poor mental health.

Mind Cymru has called for Wales to follow England and Scotland's lead and set up its own anti-discrimination campaign to tackle the stigma surrounding mental ill health.

The charity points to surveys carried out across the UK which reveal how prevalent such stigma is.

Work by the Department of Health last year found more than a quarter of people do not think those with mental health conditions should have the same rights to a job as anyone else, while 46% of people questioned in Wales by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2008 said people who have been diagnosed with depression are unsuitable to work as primary school teachers.

A further 37% told the same survey they would be unhappy if a close relative married or formed a long-term relationship with someone with a mental health condition.

The most recent piece of work by the Time to Change campaign in England, which questioned people around the UK, found 66% wouldn't rent a room in a shared flat to someone with a mental health condition.

A briefing paper outlining the need for an anti-stigma campaign in Wales, by Mind Cymru, states: "Wales is currently the only country in Great Britain without a national campaign aimed at raising awareness of mental health and tackling discrimination.

"Previous Assembly Governments have seen the value of such a campaign and set out a timetable for delivery.

"The Welsh national service framework (NSF) for adult mental health stated that there should be a national campaign aimed at combating the stigma and discrimination experienced by mental health services users.

"The original deadline for this was September 2002. No progress was made on the anti-stigma campaign."

The revised NSF, in 2005, again contained a target that a programme of local and national action would be in place by March 2009 to tackle stigma and discrimination as part of the mental health promotion action plan.

The briefing paper adds: "The recent Assembly Government announcement of pounds 450,000 over three years to promote understanding of mental health issues and tackle stigma is very welcome.

"However, the public sector is facing significant cuts, many of which are in the process of being negotiated. …

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