Belittlement that can break minds.

    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
    problem.

    Richard Brook is chief executive of Mind.

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