Ignorance and fear breed mental health discrimination

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Health Minister John Hutton has launched the results of a major research study into mental health discrimination, marking the first stage of a new mind out for mental health campaign combating stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.

The Government's campaign aims to target key opinion forming groups - such as employers, employees, the media and young people - to help stop the stigma and discrimination experienced by many of the 1 in 4 of us who will be affected by mental health problems.

The 'Tomorrow's Minds' research - which launches the youth element of the campaign - is being launched in partnership with the National Union of Students (NUS) and National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF). The research shows that:

  • 80% of young people believe that having a mental health problem will lead to discrimination
  • 55% questioned wouldn't want anyone else to know they had a mental health problem
  • The media (62%), employers (68%), and ironically people their own age (65%) are identified by young people as major perpetrators of discrimination

It also showed that young people themselves have discriminatory attitudes towards mental health problems:

  • Derogatory language is commonly used, with 61% admitting they use the words 'psycho', 'schizo', 'nutter' and/or 'loony'
  • Racist language is considered taboo, but only one third consider 'pyscho' and schizo' unacceptable

Young people are also largely ignorant of what constitutes a mental health problem:

  • 40% believe people with mental health problems are more likely to be violent
  • 47% would be concerned for their safety if a hospital for people with mental health problems was built next door

However, young people do recognise a need for an anti-discrimination campaign, with almost one fifth identifying mental health (18%) as the most important discriminatory issue to combat. This is second to race (46%) and higher than sexuality (6%) and gender (3%). More than three-quarters of young people say they would feel less afraid if they knew more about mental health problems and they would welcome information about the 'correct way' to describe conditions.

John Hutton said, "The mind out for mental health campaign is a clear sign of the government's commitment to tackle discrimination on the grounds of mental health. Many people discriminate and perpetuate negative stereotypes and young people's attitudes in particular clearly need to change as they are the opinion formers of the future.

"One in four people in this country will experience a mental health problem of some kind over the course of a year. 65% of people with a mental health problem have experienced some form of discrimination while almost half have been abused or harassed in public. One in seven have been physically attacked. This is totally unacceptable and must be confronted and challenged. This campaign lays the foundations for the much-needed fundamental shift in how mental health is seen in this country.

"By working in partnership with business, mental health organisations and voluntary sector groups the campaign is delivering the message that people must stop being part of the problem and change their mindset about mental health."

Rachel Cashman, NUS Vice President Welfare said, "Young people are critical because the prevalence and severity of mental illness in students is increasing and for too long students affected have faced prejudice and discrimination. NUS is working with mind out for mental health to stamp out discrimination and improve understanding of mental health issues throughout the university population."

Paul Farmer, Director of Public Affairs, NSF, said, "More young people are aware of mental health issues than ever before, yet their attitudes show the real need for the mind out for mental health campaign. Young people expect to lose friends or relatives if they admit a mental health problem and yet NSF research shows that over half of young people correctly identify the important role of friends and family can play. It's the fear of discrimination that perpetuates the stigma of having a mental health problem that we are working with mind out for mental health to combat."

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