Social exclusion is a well-worn phrase, but what does it really
mean to be socially excluded?
It may be a sign of the times that about one-third of us feel
isolated. But something is wrong when four in five people with a
mental health problem feel alienated and say that their isolation
is an obstacle to overcoming or coping with mental distress.
There have been great advances in public understanding of mental
health issues in the past 30 years. Yet, even today, people with
mental health problems face such prejudice that, were it to be
exercised on the grounds of ethnicity or religious faith, it would
provoke outrage, if not recourse to legal action.
My knowledge of the tabloid media is borne more of professional
rather than personal interest. So I was interested when The Sun
recently ran a piece on panic attacks. To be more accurate, on one
panic attack in particular. The piece was not interesting so much
for any understanding it provided on why people might have panic
attacks, how common they are or how awful it must be to experience
one. Nor did it pay homage to the millions of men and women who
battle mental distress daily without incident. No, it was
interesting because of how it demeaned an air stewardess, whose
panic attack resulted in the apparently cardinal sin of delaying
holidaymakers on their flight to Mallorca.
Attitudes like these reinforce social isolation and impede
individual recovery. We need to question why people with mental
health problems are often excluded from the basics of life. Why is
it so difficult to get adequate insurance cover or a decent
mortgage? Why, when it has long been recognised that leisure and
sporting activities have a positive impact on mental health, are
local authorities so reluctant to extend direct access payment
schemes to service users?
Sometimes complex problems have straightforward solutions. The
government must increase its commitment to anti-stigma activities.
Social care guidance must be amended to ensure that service users
have access to public transport, telephones and the internet. And
no longer should national newspapers be able to get away with
belittling people simply because they have a mental health
Richard Brook is chief executive of Mind.