Ending the stigma that hurts more than the symptoms

Campaign to stop discrimination and change our attitudes to mental illness gets £20m cash boost

The stigma of having a mental illness leaves a quarter of sufferers ready to give up on life.

With two-thirds of sufferers claiming that discrimination at school or at work is worse than the symptoms, the Government is to inject up to £16m into a campaign to change attitudes. It is the first state funding the Time to Change campaign, led by the mental health charities Mind and Rethink, has been awarded. In addition, it is to receive £4m from Comic Relief. The campaign intends to use the money to reach 29 million people, and in doing so increase the confidence of 100,000 people with mental health problems.

One in four of people will experience some form of mental health problem during their lives. Ministers are particularly concerned about the impact of bullying in schools, and wants to ensure that anyone suffering from a mental illness is not excluded permanently from the world of work.

Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said: "Too often people with a mental health condition are treated differently by family and friends. The stigma is immense and they don't feel able to talk about their illness. That is why we have to change people's attitudes."

He said the campaign was "all about fairness" which included giving mental health the same status and priority as that given to physical health. "It is about giving people with mental health problems a fair chance, with the confidence to fulfil their potential."

Time to Change was founded in October 2007 and its organisers say that they have recorded a 4 per cent reduction in discrimination experienced by mental health sufferers. This has been measured by interviewing 1,000 people and comparing their answers year on year.

They acknowledge that there is still have some way to go, however, with only one in three respondents to their latest survey saying that they would be comfortable telling work colleagues that they had been absent due to a mental health issue.

Projects already under way include "Tea and Talk" sessions for businesses in the South-west to dispel myths surrounding mental health problems in the workplace, while in the North-west, running schemes in football and rugby clubs have helped to build confidence.

The problems associated with mental illness are particularly acute among children, among whom one in 10 will have a mental health problem, according to the Mental Health Foundation. This is something Time to Change aims to address.

The scheme will also target the African-Caribbean community, in which cultural unease about mental health problems can make it difficult for sufferers to seek help. Last week Paul Burstow, the care services minister, visited Duke McKenzie's fitness centre in Crystal Palace, London, where Time to Change has helped young men and women with mental health problems to build confidence. He said the money would "help fight the negative attitudes people have towards mental health conditions".

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