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Monday, 24 April, 2000, 23:30 GMT 00:30 UK
Mentally ill 'suffer discrimination'
GPS are not always sympathetic, the report says
People with mental health problems suffer discrimination from family, friends and health professionals, according to a report.

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF), which publishes the Pull Yourself Together report on Tuesday, says that action must be taken to tackle the stigma in society surrounding mental illness.

The report, issued to mark Health Action Week, asked people with experience of mental health problems to reveal what kind of discrimination they had suffered or witnessed.

Seventy per cent of those who took part had experienced discrimination in response to their own mental distress, or that of a friend or relative.

GP comments to mentally ill people
Snap out of it
I can only help if you're suicidal
And 44% reported discrimination from their GPs - even though they are supposed to be the first point of call for help.

Nearly a fifth of people felt that they could not tell their GPs about their mental health problems.

Some also reported that GPs had attributed physical health problems to symptoms of mental illness.

Family problems

Many people had received unhelpful or damaging advice from relatives, such as "pull yourself together". Other sufferers said they were thought to be acting, or were considered stupid or unreliable.

Three-quarters of respondents said they would not disclose mental health problems on application forms for jobs for fear of discrimination. More than half would not tell their work colleagues.

If people are experiencing discrimination or are being told to 'Pull yourself together', then their chances of accessing good support are diminished

Ruth Lesirge, director, Mental Health Foundation

Ruth Lesirge, MHF director, said the report highlighted the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, and also raised serious questions about the role of the GP.

She said: "It is the doctor who can ensure that you receive appropriate services and treatment. If people are experiencing discrimination or are being told to 'Pull yourself together', then their chances of accessing good support are diminished.

"With one in four of the UK population experiencing mental health problems in any one year, we have to change our attitudes and build on the good services and support that are available."

The MHF recommends:

  • All GPs should have ongoing training to develop their understanding of mental health problems
  • The new Disability Rights Commission should give priority to addressing discrimination in relation to people with mental health problems
  • The Government and all agencies which promote mental health should join together to deliver a comprehensive anti-discrimination campaign
Dr Hamish Meldrum, a senior member of the British Medical Association's GP committee, said: "If GPs are saying things inappropriately I am not going to condone it, but true discrimination is extremely rare.

"The more serious problem is the lack of overall resources that have been made available to fund mental health care in the community.

"GPs are under severe time pressures and do not have adequate access to back-up services."

Pull Yourself Together is based on the responses of 556 people to a postal survey.

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