Stamp out stigma

RACISM, sexism, ageism and many other subjects are given an “ism” in an attempt to stamp out discrimination and make it socially unacceptable to have a certain belief.

Mental health has not been afforded such status. Always the hidden illness, ignored by society until they can tell a story that vilifies a sufferer.

One in four of us will suffer at some point in our lives and one in ten young people. Yet there is still huge stigma attached to having a mental health illness and sufferers are forced to hide their illness from all around them in society and in business.

Nine out of ten mental health patients claim to have experienced discrimination. We have seven million people resident in the UK with significant mental health conditions and yet as a society we continue to shun and judge all those that have one.

Is it any wonder when 63 per cent of all references to mental health in TV soaps are flippant and jovial, belittling the condition, comments such as “crackpot,” “basket case” and “she’s clearly care in the community”.

We are, unfortunately, an ignorant nation and fear what we do not understand. Social media is covered in slurs to people with conditions. There is even a stigma amongst those who have them. Services are being cut by the Government and many people are unable to find the help and support they need.

Although I doubt any would openly declare a prejudiced view, by listening to what people say it is clear the problem is education. Stigma can only be removed by everyone having a true understanding and acceptance that we are all different.

Somebody with a mental health condition did not ask for it and it makes them no less of a person and they can still go on to do amazing things and be an enormous asset to the community. The popular view being, that all sufferers are dangerous or a drain on society.

In 2010, the Watch Project was started in Chard by a local lady, Julie Matthews, who found her local services cut and took drastic action to highlight the issue. She believed so passionately about the need for peer support and social inclusion she locked herself in the day centre (that was being closed) for more than two days in protest.

Today, the Watch Project is humbling to visit. A voluntary group, where mental health sufferers come to engage with other sufferers. They have a multitude of activities for members to participate in, workshops, art, drama, cooking, IT and many more.

There is no stigma among the members and everyone comes together to improve their confidence and make friends, many going on to employment or becoming volunteers themselves.

Service, such as this, should be readily available and funded but at present are few and far between. Even those already established are struggling to continue to finance themselves.

Thursday, February 6, is the national Time To Talk day, where everyone is encouraged to discuss mental health or hold an event with a view to stamping out the stigma attached. The Watch Project will be holding an event, as will many other local organisations. It is asked that on February 6 that as many conversations as possible are started about mental health to raise awareness. I would ask that all those on social media tweet, write a Facebook status or join in an online forum conversation.

The more we can educate and break down barriers, the better a society we will live in. Perhaps one day you may be affected and I would hope that by that time, we have all joined together and mental health discrimination and   stigma is a thing of the past.



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