Will new Mental Health Discrimination law end the stigma of mental illness?

get well soon card

This is just one of the get-well-soon e-cards from Time to Change, aiming to challenge the mental illness stigma.

If you had a friend with a mental illness, would you send them a get-well card? If your answer’s ‘no’ or ‘not sure’, then you’re in the majority. Only one in four people experiencing a mental health issue has received a card from well-wishers, according to a study by Time to Change, an anti-stigma campaign run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness.

While 79% of people would consider sending a card to someone with a physical health problem, only 50% would do the same if it related to mental health. And a third (32%) wouldn’t know if it were appropriate. A range of get-well-soon e-cards is key to the campaign to get people talking about mental illness.

The efforts of campaigning groups have been rewarded by the UK government, which has made it illegal on the grounds of mental illness. The Mental Health (Discrimination) Act 2013, which became law on 28 February, means that people with mental illness will no longer be barred from sitting on a jury, holding a company directorship, or being an MP.

Campaigners believe this law will help to turn the tide on mental illness, encouraging more people to bring it out into the open and talk about it. The chief executive of mental health charity Mind, Paul Farmer, says the Act is a “watershed moment” for attitudes to mental health. “We are a step closer today to achieving true equality for the one in four of us who has a mental health problem,” he adds.

The change to the law was driven by Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell. He says: “The Bill sends a clear message from Parliament that discrimination is wrong: that people have a right to be judged as individuals, not labelled or stereotyped.”

The fact that mental illness has been the subject of two major movies, Silver Linings Playbook and Side Effects, has brought mental health into the spotlight on both sides of the Atlantic. This article on Huffington Post, Our unhealthy view of mental health (and mental illness) sums up much of the debate, and calls for “a dialogue to destigmatise mental illness”.

Anything that gets people to face mental health issues, rather than turn a blind eye, surely has to be a good thing…?

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