Mental health problems are common: one in four of us experience them in any year. But even now, nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say they face stigma and discrimination as a result. Kate Nightingale, head of communications at Time to Change, tells us more.
This is why Time to Change exists. Run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental illness, we’re England’s biggest programme dedicated to challenging mental health stigma and discrimination. Since the campaign began in 2008, we have made good progress towards improving public attitudes and behaviour towards those of us who’ve experienced or are experiencing mental health problems. But there is still a long way to go; we need to bring mental health problems out into the open and remove any shame and stigma surrounding them – individuals, employers, the media and schools all have a role to play in this.
There are many things we can do as individuals to reduce the stigma of mental illness. For one, we can start being more open when we talk about mental health. If someone you knew had broken their leg, you would ask them how they are, yet when it comes to mental health, people are often lost for words. Sometimes, just doing the little things – asking someone how they are or inviting them round for a cup of tea – is all it takes to let them know you’re still thinking about them, which can make a big difference in how they’re feeling. We’ve developed some really simple top tips cards with some of our supporters to try and help people start a conversation with a friend, family member, or colleague who’s experiencing mental health problems.
Media portrayals and reporting – consumed by millions of people every day – are extremely powerful influences on attitudes towards mental health, both for good and bad. Time to Change has a media advisory service for journalists and programme makers who are looking for advice when reporting or doing a fictional storyline on mental health. This can prevent the reinforcement of damaging stereotypes that are so often perpetuated in sensationalist articles or storylines. In drama and soaps a recent study found that 63 per cent of references to mental health were pejorative, flippant, or unsympathetic. However, over the last couple of years our media advisory service has worked on nearly 30 mental health storylines including EastEnders and The Archers, including putting researchers and writers in touch with people who have really experienced the issues that are being portrayed. We’re starting to see the results of this with more positive and realistic representations in the media. More people with direct experiences of mental health problems feel that their voices are being heard.
Schools and parents can also play a huge part in tackling stigma by talking to children and young people about mental health. Attitudes are often formed at a young age, and many mental health problems also begin during the teenage years, so it’s important that parents and youth professionals feel able to talk openly about mental illness and tackle discriminatory language or behaviour when they see it. We do this by providing tailored materials for parents. We’ve also begun some pilot work in schools in the West Midlands and Kent and Medway that delivers anti-stigma and discrimination training to young people and teachers. It will mean teachers, children, and young people are better equipped to challenge stigma if they see it happen and also support their own friends if they have difficulties in the future. By making it easier for open conversations about mental health to happen both at home and at school, young people will know there are people around them they can turn to for advice and support.
One of the most successful ways of reducing stigma and discrimination is when someone with experience of mental health problems shares their experiences with somebody who has never experienced mental illness first hand. Our research shows that attitudes, knowledge, and behaviours towards people with mental health problems are more likely to improve when you have the opportunity to learn from someone who has this personal experience. This is what Time to Change advocate at all of our events and through our grant-funded projects working in local communities across England and even online, through our many blogs written by people with first-hand experience of mental illness.
Recent research found that Time to Change is having a significant positive effect on public attitudes and that stigma and discrimination in relation to mental health might be more prevalent without the campaign. We know that the work we’re doing with individuals, in schools, workplaces, and in local communities is tackling stigma and discrimination but we also know there is still more work to be done. Such will be the case until we can confidently say that no one is stigmatised or discriminated against due to a mental health issue.
For more information or if you would like to get involved with Time to Change as an individual or a company, please visit www.time-to-change.org.uk