Mental health drive tackles youth prejudice

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Britain's first big campaign to combat the shame and isolation suffered by people with mental illness and depression will be launched today.

Britain's first big campaign to combat the shame and isolation suffered by people with mental illness and depression will be launched today.

Young people will be one of the campaign's prime targets because of a sharp rise in the number of under-24s who experience mental health problems and because of their high levels of prejudice.

In the past five years, the number of students seeking help from counselling services has increased by 25 per cent and suicide is the biggest killer of young men.

But research published today shows that 55 per cent of young people would not want anyone to know if they had a mental health problem and eight out of 10 believe they would be discriminated against.

Conversely, more than half of all those aged 16 to 24 admit they use derogatory language such as "schizo" or "nutter" and many of them believe that people with mental illness are unsafe or violent.

One in four adults will experience some form of mental illness, ranging from depression, severe anxiety and eating disorders, to manic depression and schizophrenia, at some point in their lives.

But despite the widespread nature of the problem, health ministers say many sufferers still experience discrimination, abuse, harassment or even physical attacks.

The national £1m campaign, led by the Department of Health, will encourage young people, employers and the media to change their attitudes and misconceptions about mental illness.

John Hutton, a Health minister, said a "fundamental shift" in public opinion was needed so that discrimination against the disease became as socially unacceptable as racism, sexism and homophobia.

Professor Louis Appleby, the national director for mental health, added: "Here we are at the start of the 21st century and people are very reluctant to say they have an illness. People still feel ashamed. It is quite horrible really."

Several decades ago, tuberculosis, epilepsy and even cancer were surrounded by such a stigma that victims often kept the diseases quiet, Professor Appleby said. Mental illness needed the same degree of acceptability those diseases now received, he said.

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