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Damon Lambert: Time to throw a bone to Black Dog - ending the stigma against people with mental illness

Damon_lambertDamon 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.

It's time us Conservatives challenged the pernicious impacts of this stigma head on. The party should encourage employers to positively welcome employees with mental illness, to enable and include them, and especially to encourage them to return to work from illness, because work aids recovery. It's long been overdue that the anachronistic ban on people with a history of mental illness serving on juries was removed; they are as much the accused's peers as anyone else. Service users should have greater choice, although in some cases having a choice at all would be an improvement. People with mental illness are best placed to choose the treatment that best works for them, in contrast to the centralised and custodial approach favoured by the current government. The Disability Discrimination Act should be revised and amended, there is little evidence of it having an impact in reducing discrimination against the mentally ill. Plus there should be an education programme to provide facts to dispel the damaging myths so sufferers, their friends and family, healthcare workers and employers can positively deal with mental illness. Currently, the prevalent prejudices too often embed disadvantages into the lives of those with mental distress.

Conservatives should recognise the above as True Blue policy. These policies seek to empower individuals by removing barriers to their wellbeing in order to enable them to contribute their most. They seek to end the damage of ignorance and instead enlighten with compassion and knowledge. People with mental illness are often subject to social, cultural, economic and healthcare discrimination at a degree thankfully now historic for others who suffered unjust bias. Its'time the Conservative Party threw a bone to Black Dog and brought the treatment and perceptions of mental illness into the twenty-first century.


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