The Week That Was

It's been a strange week in the world of mental health stigma. 

From The Sun's sensational "1,200 people killed by mental patients" headline, to #WorldMentalHealthDay trending worldwide on Thursday. 

What do these two extremes tell us about the state of mental health stigma in Britain?

Firstly, it's important to set the record straight regarding the The Sun's headline.

1200 people have been killed by those who had been diagnosed with mental illnesses, over the past 10 years. 1200 out of 6,605. Furthermore, that figure has fallen from 163 in 2004 to 86 in 2010. No murder is right, and everything possible should be done to keep everyone - the mentally ill included - safe from harm. 

Sadly, The Sun's headline, following on from the Tesco "Mental Patient" Costume Drama demonstrates that there is still so much more to be done. An NHS survey found that 1 in 10 people felt "it is frightening to think of people with mental problems living in residential neighbourhoods." For me, that statistic is equally worrying. Going along this line of thinking, 1 in 4 people at somepoint in their lives shouldn't be able to live in their homes for the duration of their illness. 

Forgive me, but that's ridiculous.

Reports show that those suffering with mental illnesses are three times more likely to be victims of crime than the rest of the population. The risk they may pose, is miniscule in comparison to the risk they are under. The pain of mental illness can be crippling - stigma makes that pain all the more agonising. It breaks my heart, that when stories like that are published, I wonder, however briefly, if the work I do is going to waste. 

But then there is are days like Thursday, when I'm heartened. This week demonstrated that as much as stigma is still prevalent and painful - there is also an enormous amount of work being done to tackle it. 

Mind asked #Whatsyourstory to their twitter followers and the replies brought me to tears. Tears full of hope and wonder at the bravery of people battling their own minds every day. The stories people were telling weren't about acts of violence committed against them by someone suffering - they were stories of people who do amazing things everyday. We need to make more noise about these stories. More noise about the Time to Change awareness events, more noise in our Churches, more noise to the government - because stories like those published in The Sun help no-one. 

Let us not lose heart, not lose the vision we have for a society which can be open about mental illness and can show compassion to those who need it the most. 

This was the week that mental health stigma seemed to take a huge knock. 

This was also the week that mental health stigma was fought by thousands all over the world - so let's keep it up!


Rachael Costa, 13/10/2013
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