Tackling mental illness stigma will take time

Picture: Gareth Easton
Picture: Gareth Easton
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LAST week saw the publication of a comprehensive evaluation of England’s Time to Change campaign, a campaign, like ‘see me’ in Scotland, which seeks to end mental health discrimination.

Evaluation results show successes in some areas offset by lack of progress in others and some commentators have been quick to claim that this means that anti-stigma campaigns just don’t work.

All credit to Time to Change for sticking their collective heads above the parapet, funding the evaluation and welcoming the learning that it brings. The ‘see me’ campaign is in a similar position, though without the same rigorous evidence-base; we know that in some areas public attitudes have shifted, in others progress has been slower. Centuries of prejudice towards those of us with mental ill-health have created a fear of being stigmatised.

In Scotland we need to take some lessons from the English evaluation. The first lesson is that changing behaviours about mental illness is complicated. Not only does no-one know what works best in tackling mental health discrimination, but the measures we use to assess “success” can be questionable in their indication of effectiveness over time.

Secondly, tackling mental health stigma and discrimination generally takes more time than governments and funders around the world have been prepared to give it. The need to measure successes over the short lifetime of governments and strategies, coupled with an increasingly fragile funding landscape, can lead to countries around the world abandoning programmes or approaches if they do not show results fast.

‘See me’ is Scotland’s national anti-stigma campaign. It has been fortunate enough to enjoy support and funding from governments of all parties, but it cannot be immune to the learning generated by the English evaluation. Yes, we need to deal with complexity, but we also need to take a long-term view. The goal of ending mental health discrimination is worth it.

Just Listen is the new campaign from ‘see me’ to get more Scots talking about mental health. Find out how you can listen better and pledge support at www.seemescotland.org.uk/justlisten.

• Suzie Vestri is campaign director of ‘see me’.