Damon Lambert, Treasurer of ok2b - a charity seeking to achieve a positive shift in the public’s attitude
towards people with mental health problems - and a Tax Director for a
multinational Bank, describes the importance of tackling prejudices about mental illness.
Winston Churchill, the man voted the greatest ever Briton named his bipolar disorder, (sometimes referred to as "manic depression") "Black Dog". Yet despite the Information Age we live in, the Stigma around Mental Health is as pervasive as ever. Society's perception of the second most common health problem in the UK still abounds with ignorance of the illness, prejudice against its sufferers, and discrimination against them at work and in the wider society. Media attitudes, especially in parts of the deadwood press often use alarming, castigating and insulting terms when most sufferers are completely harmless and fully capable of working and parenting. Indeed there are several arenas, not least the Arts, Cricket - and scratch the surface hard because people do of course hide such illness - business, where people with mental illness are big achievers.
Stigma causes problems in many ways. Sufferers are deterred from seeking medical treatment due to social embarrassment and fears for their job. This causes deeper illness and slower recovery and in extreme cases, this can lead to what should have been preventable suicide. Stigma pervades not just the general populace but often health care providers, who consequently do not dispense effective treatments and may be unsupportive. In certain groups, e.g. ethnic minorities the problem can be especially acute. This all creates a vicious circle, sufferers may lose out on work and employment, hence impacting their housing, hence causing deeper stress, hence impeding recovery, deepening symptoms or both. There is also the economic cost of stigma. Mental illness is one of the biggest causes of absenteeism from work; both in days taken off, and also due to stigma, the barriers people with mental illness face in gaining, or returning to, employment. The loss of their contribution to the economy, both in terms of wasted talent and taxes foregone, is at least in the tens of £billions. When mental health and wellbeing is dealt with in the same form as physical disease the impact of earlier detection and treatment will include a financial benefit to the polity.