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Tuesday, 17 April, 2001, 00:22 GMT 01:22 UK
Mental illness 'kept secret'
Mentally ill woman
The mentally ill and their friends need a good support network
One in four people only discovered a friend's mental health problems when they were admitted to hospital, says a charity.

The stigma of mental illness prevents people from getting all the support they need from friends, says the Mental Health Foundation.

Many people only find out a friend has problems when it is too late.

One in four people only discovered their friend's problem when they checked into a mental hospital. A further five per cent only became aware of problems when their friend tried to commit suicide.

Now there are calls for more support for the mentally ill and their friends.

We know that being accepted by your friends is one of the most important positive factors for anybody experiencing mental health problems

Ruth Lesirge, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation

The Mental Health Foundation now wants to see mental health education becoming part of the school curriculum from an early age to provide children with the skills and knowledge they need.

They also want to see the National Carers' Strategy recognise the role of friends as carers and the Disability Rights Commission give priority to addressing discrimination in relation to people with mental health needs.

They also want all GPs to be given on-going training to develop their understanding of mental health problems and their impact on people's lives.


Ruth Lesirge, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said friendship was vital for the mentally ill.

She said: "We know that being accepted by your friends is one of the most important positive factors for anybody experiencing mental health problems.

"But we all still need to do more to ensure that people feel able to talk to their friends when they first need support."

The Mental Health Foundation report found three out of four people said they got their support from a network of friends, 57% said the mental health services was their major source and just over half went to their GP for help and advice

But many people said they were too frightened to tell their friends they were suffering from mental health problems because of the stigma attached.

Nearly four in 10 people were worried about telling friends because they did not want to be seen as a burden.

One person said: "I avoid making friends because of my illness. I also think some friends from school have not kept in touch because they heard through the grapevine that I had mental problems."

A third of people said they felt their friendships had become strained or had been lost because of mental distress.

Six out of 10 people said they needed more support if they were to give friends the support they need.

Friends were found to provide practical help, transport, child care and housework as well as emotional support, and the Mental Health Foundation said it was important this burden is recognised and the carers helped.

One person said they were unable to offer his friend all the help he needed.

He said: "I have made a commitment to David like any other friend.

"The difference though is that he sometimes needs a lot of extra help and support and depending on my commitments I either can or cannot offer enough."

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