Battle for hearts and minds must be won

Last week, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health published the
first attempt to calculate the human cost of reduced quality of
life caused by mental illness and loss of life for those driven to
suicide. The figure – £77.4bn – is double previous

At Community Care Live, social exclusion minister Barbara
Roche announced a new consultation on employment for people with
mental health problems. According to the Sainsbury Centre’s study,
the economy lost £23.1bn due working days lost. In addition,
39 per cent of working age adults with a mental health problem have
no job – often due to the prejudice of employers and work
colleagues rather than incapacity.

Only 12 per cent of all public spending on health and social
services is allocated to mental health services. The attention of
the social exclusion unit ought to result in improved resources but
what’s also desperately required is a national strategy which
challenges the stigma while giving a better platform for the many
voices of those who experience mental illness.

According to the campaign Mind Out for Mental Health, 85 per cent
of the public say mentally ill people have been discriminated
against for too long. Yet, 40 per cent of people also associate
mental illness with violence. It’s not surprising. In one study of
press coverage, conducted in 1996, almost half of the stories in
the press concerned with mental illness linked it to violence and

On average, a person dies by their own hand every two hours. One
episode of the BBC series Casualty contained a storyline
about a paracetamol overdose. Research showed that self-poisoning
increased by 17 per cent in the week following the broadcast and 9
per cent in the second week. Yet, against this backdrop of
sensationalist exposure, the reality of mentally ill people’s
experiences is rarely heard. In a survey by Mental Health
in 2001, only 6.5 per cent of press articles contained
the views and testaments of mental health service users

Change takes time. It is helped by continuing to collate evidence
as the Sainsbury Centre report has done – and in humanising the
issue, challenging media caricatures by encouraging the mentally
ill to find their own voice and use it often. That’s been a demand
from campaigners for many years. So why does the silence

– The Economic and Social Cost of Mental Illness from the
Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, £5, 020 7827 8352.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.