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Wednesday, 13 October, 1999, 18:52 GMT 19:52 UK
Combating the stigma of mental illness
Mental illness has attracted widespread discrimination
Psychiatrists are launching a five-year campaign to combat the stigma of mental illness - despite opposition from patients.

The campaign by the Royal College of Psychiatrists aims to reduce the stigma attached to the six most common mental illnesses - severe depression, panic attacks, schizophrenia, dementia, eating disorders and alcohol and drug addiction.

Five per cent of women have an eating disorder, over 500,000 old people have dementia, 1% of people will develop schizophrenia,5% will become alcoholic and 2.5% drug addicts.

Mental Health
Professor Arthur Crisp, chairman of the RCP campaign, said: "People suffering from mental disorders often attract fear, hostility and disapproval rather than compassion, support and understanding.

"Such reactions not only cause them to feel isolated and unhappy, but may also prevent them receiving effective help and treatment."

Part of the problem

However, mental health users' groups accuse psychiatrists of being part of the problem.

They are holding a march to protest against the RCP campaign. They say psychiatrists label the mentally ill for life, instead of treating them as people.

Heroin
People are more tolerant of alcohol abuse than drug abuse
And they say psychiatrists often present the mentally ill as more dangerous than they are.

They believe this could be used to justify the introduction of compulsory treatment orders.

The government is discussing the use of treatment orders to force community care patients to take their medication.

The debate has arisen after a handful of high-profile cases involving attacks by community care patients who have failed to take their medication.

Many mental health groups are against the orders and believe there should instead be more support for patients in the community.

Survey

The RCP's campaign is backed up by a survey of public attitudes on mental illness which shows that people still do not understand mental health problems.

Despite the fact that 18% of women and 11% of men have significant psychiatric symptoms in any week, people are still afraid of and hostile towards the mentally ill.

The survey of 1,700 people's attitudes towards the six most common mental disorders shows that:

  • 74% rate drug addicts as dangerous while 71% think schizophrenics are a threat and 65% believe alcoholics are a danger
  • 49% of people think those with severe depression should 'pull themselves together'; 47% think drug addicts are to blame for their illness while 33% think the same of alcoholics and 39% of people with eating disorders
  • 81% of people think alcoholics are unpredictable, compared with 78% for drug addicts and 77% for schizophrenics. Some 56% of people with severe depression and 50% of those suffering panic attacks are described as unpredictable
  • A majority believe the condition of people with dementia will not improve with treatment; 16% believe depression cannot be treated, compared with 15% for schizophrenia, 14% for panic attacks, 12% for drug addiction, 11% for alcoholism and 10% for eating disorders.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) says many people still think it is difficult to communicate with people with mental illness.

However, the RCP said there were some positive signs in the survey, which also showed that over half of the people questioned had personal experience of mental illness.

The public was mostly accurate when predicting the outcome of mental illness.

However, people underestimated the long-term effects of anorexia.

They thought just 12% would never recover, when the RCP says the figure is 40% with half of these dying within 20 years.

Acceptance

The RCP says there is a noticeable difference in attitudes towards drug and alcohol addiction, with less stigma being attached to alcoholism.

Professor Arthur Crisp, chairman of the campaign, said: "It is interesting to note that the general public are more sympathetic towards alcohol than drug addiction with only 59% blaming alcoholics and 67% drug addicts.

Anorexic
Forty per cent of anorexics never recover
"This may reflect society's greater acceptance in alcohol."

The RCP's campaign will attempt to educate the public about the role of different factors in mental illness, for example, sexual abuse, personal relationships, employment and genetics.

And it will provide information on what treatments are on offer, including psychotherapy, drugs and self-help groups.

The campaign is linked to World Mental Health Day on 10 October which is focusing on human rights and mental illness.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
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Dr Peter Byrne: "The mentally ill are often shunned and some people jeer at them"
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The BBC's Breakfast News on mental illness
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Radio 5 Live discussion on the stigma of health mental
See also:

29 Jul 98 | Latest News
'Third way' for mental health
13 Oct 99 | Health
Mentally ill subjected to abuse
06 Oct 99 | Medical notes
Anorexia factfile
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