Biggest ever campaign to combat mental illness stigma

The biggest ever campaign in England to combat the stigma of mental illness has been launched.

The Big Lottery Fund is pumping £16m into a campaign which will include anti-stigma television advertisements. Comic Relief is providing £2m.

The campaign, entitled Moving People, will be run by the charities Mental Health Media, Mind and Rethink together with the Institute of Psychiatry. The campaign aims to reach 30 million people across England.

Campaigners say people with mental health problems are one of the most excluded groups in society, and the announcement of the campaign comes on the heels of Department of Health research published this month which claimed there has been an increase in prejudice over the last ten years.

The research found, for example, there has been a drop in people who believe those with mental health problems should have the same right to a job as anyone else, In 2003 it was 68%, but this year it was 65%.

The research also reported that over the last four years there has been a 17% increase in people saying those with mental health problems are “prone to violence”. This year it was 34%. In 2003 it was 29%.

The department of health research suggests young people are those most prejudiced towards people with mental health problems. Younger people are less likely to agree that “we need to adopt a far more tolerant attitude towards people with mental illness in our society”. Only 79% of 16-34 year olds agree with this statement, compared to 87% of 35-54 year olds and 86% of over 55s.

The government says it backs the Moving People campaign.

Ivan Lewis, the care services minister who took over responsibility for mental health this month, said: “We should now unite to launch a sustained national campaign against the stigma and ignorance which has blighted the lives of too many people with mental health problems for too long.”

Campaigners say the anti-stigma message has had more impact in Scotland where the Scottish Executive has backed an anti-stigma campaign at a level more than 40 times per person higher than in England and Wales.

Campaigners point out that, from 2002 to 2005, the proportion of people in Scotland saying people with mental health problems are often dangerous fell from 32% to 15%. This is a drop of around half, compared to the 17% increase in England in the belief that people with mental health problems are prone to violence.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “The minister for mental health, Ivan Lewis, has said that this prejudice should be as unacceptable as racism in modern society, and we couldn’t agree more. Sadly, it seems we’re further than ever from making this a reality.

“The cost of stigma is high. It prevents many people with mental health problems from living normal lives, and it deters people from seeking help when they need it.

“That young people appear to be most likely to hold inaccurate and prejudiced views about people with mental health problems is particularly worrying. It’s crucial, for their own well being, that young people are confident discussing mental health problems with their peers, without the fear of stigma.”

“We need to transfer the lessons learnt from the successes of Scotland’s anti-stigma campaign to England and Wales.”

As well as TV advertisements, the Moving People campaign will bring together people with and without mental health problems, train 10,000 leaders and professionals (for example medical students and trainee teachers) who are in a position to combat discrimination, and encourage legal challenges to discriminatory practice.

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