Why do we need to address the stigma around mental health?
A blog in advance of the HeadStart Wolverhampton Conference on 3rd October 2017
In support of their charity, Heads Together, Prince Henry of Wales, the Duke of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cambridge wrote: “We have seen time and time again that unresolved mental health problems lie at the heart of some of our greatest social challenges. Too often, people feel afraid to admit that they are struggling with their mental health. This fear of prejudice and judgement stops people from getting help and can destroy families and end lives.”
During the time I was writing the HeadStart Wolverhampton Phase 3 bid to Big Lottery during 2015 and 2016, I was able to rely on the international evidence base which highlighted the additional distress caused by stigmatising attitudes towards people experiencing mental illness. For example, in 2012, Time to Change reported that 9 out of 10 young people who have mental health problems in the West Midlands are affected by stigma and have experienced negative treatment as a result of their mental illness. This included from friends (66%), parents (54%) and, most worryingly, teachers and lecturers (49%).
I was also able to use the contribution of young people and young adults locally who had experienced mental health challenges and were willing to share the impact on their lives from the negative beliefs of others. This seemed to apply across the range of mental distress including mood disorders, anxiety disorders and eating disorders.
The HeadStart Wolverhampton Autumn Conference is driven by the anti-stigma ambitions of the programme, wrapped around a range of thought-provoking keynotes and workshops to identify, debate and inspire the transformation required to make the societal and service changes our young people deserve. The anti-stigma ambitions in our programme include:
Campaigns and competitions
Running city-wide and regional events in schools and communities and linking in with national days such as anti-bullying and mental health awareness days, including partnerships with national organisations such as Time To Change.
Collating and presenting appropriate information to young people, parents and families, and professionals through digital means to raise awareness and better inform.
Workforce development for professionals to challenge stigma, promote better understanding and equip them with the skills and knowledge to teach others Increasing awareness, understanding and tolerance of mental health (and its manifestations) amongst young people and their parents and teaching them that stigma is bad.
As a teacher, you would expect me to be particularly keen to see how we can use education to change attitudes. Over the years I have been involved in a number of programmes where young people have been encouraged to learn about discrimination and disadvantage and challenge stereotypical attitudes in others. In my experience, young people have open minds and can be brilliant ambassadors when they are passionate about fixing unfairness.
There is certainly anecdotal evidence that young people are more willing to discuss mental and emotional health, both their own, and how others might be affected. Our HeadStart resilience and mental wellbeing programmes in schools, mostly delivered through a vehicle known as SUMO (Stop Understand Move On), certainly stimulates conversations between young people and young people and teachers and adults, and equips them with additional understanding of their own mental and emotional health and equips them with valuable coping skills and strategies.
Put very simply, addressing the negativity that people think about other people with mental health challenges should also mean over time that the people with the mental health challenges stop believing that others are thinking negative thoughts about them. That should then mean more people seek support and advice when the challenges come along. As Her Royal Highnesses are seeking from their charity: “people who feel comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing, feel able to support their friends and families through difficult times, and stigma no longer prevents people getting help they need.”