Sue Baker from anti-stigma campaign Time to Change looks back at mental health in the public eye in 2012, and reveals her hopes for the coming year.
2012 succeeded in putting the topic of mental health out there for all of us to see and talk about. With a number of taboo-tackling highlights, I feel like we’ve really started to break through and make some headway in our battle to reach the tipping point where mental health isn’t a topic we shy away from.
One highlight that will go down in the history books was when 4 MPs spoke out about their mental health problems in Parliament in June. We also saw the Mental Health Bill edge closer to becoming law as MPs voted in favour of it, which will put an end to the archaic laws that prevent people with mental health problems from participating in jury service and becoming or remaining a company director. The new law will also put a stop to MPs losing their seat if they are sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
We saw mental health being discussed on our TV screens with Channel 4’s mental health season ’4 Goes Mad’ in July. We also saw some of our best-loved soap characters learning how to deal with mental illness when EastEnders’ Ian Beale and Emmerdale’s Zak Dingle both experienced depression. On top of this we saw the US drama Homeland become a huge success with its nuanced portrayal of Carrie’s bipolar.
In the media spotlight we also saw more celebrities speaking openly about their own experiences of mental illness including Frankie Sandford from pop group the Saturdays, cricketer Andrew Flintoff and actor David Walliams. Research tells us that public figures such as these sharing their stories help others to do the same.
Other highlights included some of the UK’s major employers signing up to Time to Change’s pledge including British Gas, Lloyds Banking Group, Pepsico, the Labour Party and the Department of Health, which became the first Government department to sign up. Care Services Minister Norman Lamb MP is aiming to encourage all other Government departments to follow suit.
I could go on for some time; 2012 was a busy year. The last highlight I will mention is the support we had from former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who held a special multi-faith event at Lambeth Palace to discuss how faith leaders and communities can play their part in tackling mental health stigma.
As we start the New Year we should celebrate these milestones and use them as a springboard to further increase the noise around the issue in the year to come.
My hopes for 2013 include more people of all ages and from all walks of life feeling able to talk about their mental health problems without fear of prejudice. Our latest campaign burst is kicking off, which is highlighting what people can do to support someone in their lives with a mental health problem. Visit our website (www.time-to-change.org.uk) for more information about the campaign and to find out what you can do to support us.
I also want to see more media coverage like the Channel 4 series last summer that helps to address common myths. We also need more business leaders to get on board with our growing movement, and have more employers who see the business case for making the workplace more inclusive and mentally healthy for all.
Following on from our event at Lambeth Palace we also want to do more work with faith leaders to tackle mental health discrimination in all communities. We are also doing more targeted work with African and Caribbean communities, kicking off with a brand new festival at the end of this month called Stereo-Hype – again, you can visit our website for more information.
Finally, I really want to see more historical landmarks like the MPs speaking out. We need this to happen more often so we can reach the stage where people say “I’ve got a mental health problem” and the reaction is “so what?”
So 2012 was quite a year and all of these landmark events and discussions have started to really challenge some common misconceptions about people with mental health problems. Now we have this momentum we need to grab it with both hands. We know we have a long way to go but if we all do our bit we can make a change.
Sue Baker is director of Time to Change, England’s biggest mental health anti-stigma programme run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.