Charity’s anti-stigma campaign aims to set example to health department

Mental health charity Rethink is to launch a £100,000 one-month anti-stigma campaign in Norwich amid doubts about the effectiveness of the government’s national anti-stigma programme.

Billboard and radio advertisements, posters on buses and publicity events will aim to raise the awareness of mental illness in the city throughout March and convince ministers that awareness-raising campaigns are worth funding.

The Depart- ment of Health set up the Shift national anti-stigma programme three years ago but campaigners believe its impact has been severely hampered by a lack of funding.

Rethink anti-discrimination manager David McDade said national mental health anti-stigma campaigns had proved successful in Scotland and New Zealand and hoped the experience of Norwich would convince the government they could also be applied in England.

Shift receives annual funding of £1m, the equivalent of 2 pence per head of population in England, compared with £728,000, or 15 pence per head, spent in Scotland last year. McDade said the New Zealand project, which has been running for 10 years, received the equivalent of 36 pence per head.

He said the amount spent on Shift was also dwarfed by other government publicity campaigns such as the anti-smoking initiative.

Shift is also troubled by financial uncertainty; like many projects in the Department of Health, it is not expected to receive a budget for the coming financial year until March.

In an attempt to prove that awareness campaigns can be effective, Rethink will question a focus group of service users on their experience of stigma over the course of the Norwich project and conduct telephone surveys of the general public to gauge changes in attitude.

A second campaign is planned for Northern Ireland in January, ahead of further programmes if the approach proves successful, but McDade said Rethink was unlikely to have the resources to fund a national campaign.

He added: “It’s about us building up the requisite information to say this does work, this is an effective way of changing attitudes and changing behaviours.”


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