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Thursday, August 26, 1999 Published at 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK


Website launched for mentally ill

Eastenders helped to raise awareness about schizophrenia among the young

Young people with a mental illness are being encouraged to write scripts for a new educational website.

The project is being set up by the people responsible for coordinating with the BBC's Eastenders programme over a storyline involving a schizophrenic.

It is run by the National Schizophrenia Fellowship's (NSF) young people's project.

The website - called @ease - centres around the life stories of five young people with different mental health problems.

The scripts are written by people aged 16 to 24 which the project has encountered in its work.

Speaking young people's language

Gary Hogman of the young people's project said: "The key thing is that instead of official information which concentrates on the medical model and legislation - the cold facts of mental illness - which young people do not really respond to, we are trying to put things in terms they understand, such as feelings, experiences and behaviour.

"People can see themselves in the five characters and see they are not on their own and are quite normal.

"It is not about the Mental Health Act or hospitals which can be the impression from other leaflets."

The website is up and running now and is being consumer-tested at colleges and job clubs around the country.

There will be a full launch in March 2000.

"It is a like a soap opera and we are hoping to add new characters as we go along to introduce different kinds of experiences," said Mr Hogman.

He was involved in advising the BBC on the plotline for Joe, the schizophrenic teenager who became a popular character on Eastenders.

Through Joe Wicks, played by Paul Nichols, the NSF and the BBC tried to raise awareness about schizophrenia and show that those affected were not freaks or necessarily a danger to others.

"We were very pleased with the results," said Mr Hogman. "It was the largest ever schizophrenia awareness initiative, reaching an audience of 10 million people three times a week.

[ image: Paul Nichols played schizophrenic Joe Wicks on Eastenders]
Paul Nichols played schizophrenic Joe Wicks on Eastenders
"People could watch Joe going through the motions. We showed things were not so bad and how you could get help.

"There is so much misinformation about schizophrenia with the media focusing on extreme cases.

"And Joe was a handsome young man, not a spotty loner. He showed that schizophrenia can happen to anyone and made it easier for people to talk about it."

The storyline has since been shown around the world and the NSF has been in contact with mental health organisations in other countries to brief them on how they can use it to raise awareness.

The NSF's young people's project helps young people with mental health problems find work or get training and runs advocacy and advice projects as well as day centres holding art therapy and other forms of therapy.

The Mental Health Foundation recently published a report which stated that young people's mental health needs were being ignored.

It estimates one in five young people has a mental illness.

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