Thursday, November 4, 1999 Published at 11:09 GMT
Action urged over mental illness
Mentally ill people often face discrimination and exclusion
Mental health problems should be given more priority by the government's social exclusion unit if the stigma faced by patients is to be defeated, says mental health charity Mind.
In one of the largest studies undertaken by the charity, it calls for a cross-departmental approach to a problem which it says is three times more common than cancer and affects one in four Britons.
However, the new Health Secretary Alan Milburn says the problem will be one of the government's key priorities, alongside cancer and heart disease.
"Thousands and thousands of lives have been blighted, and talent wasted, by the rampant and powerful stigma and prejudice that still surround mental health problems.
"In the days of Victorian asylums people were shut away from society by bricks and mortar. At the end of this century, people with mental health problems are excluded by prejudice alone."
Based on interviews with more than 400 patients, care staff and employers, it calls for stricter enforcement of disability discrimination legislation, the establishment of a national agency to promote employment for the mentally ill, more benefit reforms to make it easier for the mentally ill to work and formal discussions with financial and insurance agencies to reduce discrimination.
It found that other forms of prejudice, such as racism and homophobia, had a "material effect" on mental health.
The Department of Health-backed report looked at a wide number of areas, including employment, education, the media, discrimination in the provision of insurance and financial services and mental health services themselves.
It found that many people who had been in contact with psychiatric services felt their experience of social exclusion began after they started treatment.
Many felt labelling their illness made them into "non-citizens with no rights, no respect, no credibility and no redress".
Several also complained that mental health services focused too much on medical solutions, such as drugs and ECT, rather than on social ones.
Mentally ill people said there was often a confusion between "madness and badness" in the public mind, with people who commit heinous crimes being described as "ill" rather than immoral.
The report called for more well-known people who had had mental health problems to speak out and act as positive role models to challenge the stereotypes.
In employment, it found many "openly discriminatory practices" in the workplace regarding mental illness, but said several employers were tackling the problem.
And many more wanted to although they felt unprepared and under-informed.
Work was a key factor in feeling socially included, but only 13% of seriously mentally ill people were in a job.
Many schools, universities and colleges did not show a good understanding of mental health, said the report.
Several witnesses spoke out against the policy of segregating children with mental health problems in special schools.
In higher education, the report found few support services for the mentally ill.
However, some had set up starter courses to help people with mental health problems back into work.
Mind is now beginning a two-year project to develop and evaluate multi-agency models of good practice in tackling exclusion and mental health.