Earlier this week, the UK care and support minister, Alistair Burt, announced the launch of Time To Change – a new campaign, funded by the Department of Health, to combat the stigma around mental health for young people. The Time To Change campaign hopes to start ‘thousands of conversations’, as well as launch numerous projects, in order to ‘tackle stigma and discrimination within the systems which have a big impact on people’s lives, focusing on the workplace and mental-health professionals’.
At the same time as the government was promoting Time To Change, Liberal Democrat Norman Lamb, Conservative Andrew Mitchell and New Labour’s former king of spin Alastair Campbell, among others, published an open letter entitled ‘Equality for mental health’. Signed by celebrities, MPs and other public figures, it is being pushed as a cross-party campaign to pressure ministers into focusing on mental health in the upcoming UK spending review. ‘We urge [ministers] to treat mental health equally with physical health’, reads the letter.
It seems mental health is flavour of the month. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader of the Labour Party in September, he appointed Luciana Berger to the new position of shadow minister for mental health. Since then, MPs and celebrities have been clambering on to any and every awareness-raising bandwagon to show their support for ending discrimination against mental illness.
The desire to improve healthcare is all well and good. And though the NHS has been responsible since 2012 for ensuring that the standard of care that mentally ill people receive is equal to that of physically ill people, there are still significant problems with access to treatment for mentally ill patients. However, there is a big difference between improving the efficiency of services available to those in need of medical attention, whether mental or physical, and throwing money, and countless awareness-raising campaigns, in the vague direction of mental health.
There is also a big difference between genuinely seeking to end unjust discrimination against those who suffer from severe mental-health issues, and making out that we’re all secretly a little bit mentally ill. For example, going back to work after a broken leg shouldn’t be too problematic, but attempting to return after an episode of severe depression could prove more difficult. However, the real stigma faced by those who genuinely suffer from mental illness won’t be removed by initiating a five-step ‘anti-stigma activity’ in your workplace. The catch-all nature of ‘mental-health issues’, ranging from severe conditions that require medical attention to feeling a little low, means that, when real problems arise, they aren’t treated as seriously as they should be.