Stigma’s no laughing matter

Adam James profiles Sue Baker, head of the largest ever campaign to tackle the stigma associated with mental health


Sue Baker has, to coin a phrase, got balls.

When travelling via rail from Poole, someone jumped in front of the train. The tragedy caused the journey to be delayed. But one passenger felt it was an opportunity for a wisecrack. “Couldn’t he had waited until we got home” he declared. Other passengers chuckled. Not so Baker. Instead, she said to the ‘joker’: “I worry about you because if you are depressed you will really struggle. I hope you never experience depression.” The carriage fell into silence.

Such gutso might serve Baker well in her new role as director of Moving People, the largest ever campaign to tackle attitudes and discrimination towards people with mental health problems. The Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief is pumping £18m into the four-year initiative which will be overseen by the Mental Health Media, Mind and Rethink charities and the Institute of Psychiatry.

The campaign will include national media adverts and dozens of anti-discrimination community initiatives. Moving People aims to bring about a measurable 5% decrease in mental illness and 5% reduction in discrimination.

Baker was Mind’s former head of media relations. She also headed a depression awareness campaign in New Zealand. She has, therefore, significant experience to draw upon as, in particular, she works on the national media campaign. Baker says the six months dedicated to researching and co-ordinating this will be money well spent. “The message has got to be right,” emphasises Baker. “And it also has to have some impact on behaviour.”

Baker, who herself has experienced depression, is “passionate” about service user involvement and says it will be central to Moving People. Users will hope they will be represented by the three charities involved in Moving People. Nevertheless, Baker says one service user or care – yet to be nominated – will also join the five stakeholders serving on the management committee. There will also be a 12-member service user and carer advisory group. “A lot of training is now delivered, managed and evaluated by service users,” says Baker. “But while user involvement is easy to say, it is something we will have to achieve”

It is noticeable that Moving People’s stakeholders have distinctly different traditions. The Institute of Psychiatry’s latest medical research on schizophrenia, for example, was an examination of its genetic similarities with bipolar disorder. Such a focus might not sit well with the more radical history of other stakeholders, such as Mind, whose 2007 “champion of the year”, Peter Campbell, has been a member of the Campaign Against Psychiatric Oppression. Will such differences invoke grievances when deciding upon the nuances of a national anti-stigma campaign? Baker foresees no serious problem, saying the mental health sector’s “mentality” is now more focused on working together. “Some of the differences in approaches and guiding models can be overcome,” she says. “Think of the groups involved in the Mental Health Alliance [a network of 77 mental health-related organisations which opposed the government’s mental health bill].” Moreover, she points out, the institute will be more involved in a £2m evaluation of the projects, rather than managing them.

All most everyone in mental health recognises attitudes towards those with a psychiatric diagnosis desperately needs to be tackled. As one traveler on a train back from Poole would testify, Baker will do her bit with added bravado.

What Moving People will do:

  • Develop 28 community projects, such as fitness and gardening groups, to support 24,500 people in England with mental health problems to lead healthier lifestyles.
  • Spend £8m in social marketing – including media, possibly television, advertisements – to change public attitudes.
  • Organise an annual “Get Moving” week, focusing on the benefits of physical activity.
  • Empower users to oppose discrimination in their local communities.
  • Pursue discrimination against people with mental health problems in the courts

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