OLYMPIC cyclist Sir Chris Hoy has called on Scots to back a campaign to tackle the stigma linked to mental health problems and give more support to those affected.
At the launch of a major three-year bid to help change the lives of those with such problems in Scotland, Sir Chris said people needed to be aware of the support available and be willing to talk about their difficulties.
Charity SAMH (the Scottish Association for Mental Health) wants to raise awareness and reduce stigma, with measures such as working with GPs so people can be offered more local services to help improve their wellbeing.
They also want to get more people with mental health problems into work and increase suicide-prevention support for individuals and families.
Sir Chris, a SAMH ambassador, helped launch the Standing Together for Mental Health campaign at the velodrome named after him in Glasgow yesterday.
He told The Scotsman: “We still don’t talk about mental health and there is still a stigma attached to it. It is improving, but it is still a long way from where it needs to be to let people know that there is support out there and light at the end of the tunnel.
“SAMH is doing so much to help so many people. People have told me the journeys they have been through and one thing they have all said is that at the start, they had never heard of SAMH or knew of the support that was out there.”
Sir Chris said with a physical ailment, such as cancer, people could see it and relate to it in a way that was not always the case with mental health conditions. He said more education was needed about such problems.
“There is still that attitude of ‘What’s wrong with you, pull yourself together’,” he said.
“There’s a perception that if you are successful in your life and have done well for yourself, then you’re just feeling sorry for yourself.”
Sir Chris said the first time he became aware of serious mental health problems was through fellow cyclist Graeme Obree, whose battles with depression have been much discussed.
“The guy was a world champion, world record holder, hero of so many people, and in silence he was struggling through some severe mental health problems,” he said.
“That was the first person where I saw an extreme case of someone who had attempted suicide and had got to the stage where he was struggling so badly with the problems he had that he thought that was the only possible solution.
“Graeme is starting to get better with it, come to terms with it and manage it. That is the message we would want to put across: that it doesn’t matter how bad you are, it can get better.”
SAMH wants at least 2,000 people to sign up online in their virtual velodrome at www.standtogether.org.uk.