A high profile government campaign against mental health stigma is failing those people it is supposed to help, a new hard-hitting report claims
The report criticises the government’s mental health anti-stigma campaign, entitled Shift and launched in 2004, for offering policymakers few recommendations for action to combat discrimination.
Instead of pumping millions of pounds trying to change society’s negative attitudes towards people with mental health problems, more effort should be made to ensure that anti-discrimination law actually protects such people against prejudice, said the report by the Mental Health Foundation.
Specifically, the Disability Discrimination Act should be used to protect those with a mental health diagnosis in the same way it does those with a physical disability, stated the report, written by psychiatrist Professor Graham Thornicroft.
“We need to use legal measures, such as the Disability Discrimination Act, to protect people with mental illness from unfair discrimination,” said Thornicroft, professor of community psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.
“The act has been framed primarily in relation to physical disability, and does little to help people with mental health problems.”
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “I’m opposed to the concept of stigma because it is discrimination that affects the lives of people with mental health problems, not stigma.
“It is time to stop worrying about people’s attitudes and to start changing behaviour.”
The report – entitled Actions Speak Louder; Tackling discrimination against people with mental illness – lays out actions that policy-makers and campaigners, including Shift, which is run by the National Institute for Mental Health, should make to end discrimination against people with mental health problems.
Suggestions include employers allowing the mentally ill not to work if impaired by medication, and providing them with an “external job coach” for counselling and support.
The report also suggests modifying employment contracts for those people likely to be unwell for prolonged periods.
The National Institute for Mental Health was unable to provide a response by the time psychminded published this news report.