Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Is anti-stigma the new stigma?

Anti-stigma the new Stigma?

The 'Time to Change' campaign challenges stigma and discrimination against people with mental health conditions.  Time to Change is helping groups and individuals organise activities which actively cooperate in challenging discriminatory attitudes and behaviours.

Challenging discrimination is achieved primarily through engaging in mainstream as a contributor, a consumer or a provider.  Many people with mental health conditions access mainstream activities, making their own choices as to whether to disclose or not.   The greatest impact in challenging mainstream can be achieved by prioritising individual goals and aspirations.  Support is also available  to access mainstream from mental health organisations and bridge builders or through personalisation and direct payments.

'Time to Change' seems to insist that all people with mental health conditions wish to disclose as part of their eligibility for mainstream life.  In a recent campaign video the broadcaster and service user Stephen Fry asserts that stigma and the attitudes of society in general are the main roadblocks that hinder the self-development of people with mental health conditions.

But many individuals with mental health diagnoses are accessing mainstream life without stigma, whether they choose to disclose or not.  Disclosure is really up to the individual and far from discouraging service users to use mainstream, many organisations are open to all and are accessed by people with mental health conditions every day of the week.  These are not  simply voluntary organisations or groups limited to the health or charity sectors.  These are consumer providers of all kinds - art galleries, libraries, recording studios, performance venues, gyms, sports centres, retail outlets and many more.  To assert these these organisations are discriminating simply isn't fair on these groups, nor is it a realistic assessment.

Where people with mental health conditions may lose out is in having the initial confidence to set on the journey back to mainstream.  This is particularly true of those who have been in secondary care and who may have become habituated to the life that Pat Deegan calls 'a career in mental health'.  Dr. Deegan is referring to the lack of  hope, aspiration and goals that can set in with a long-term condition.  

People who play football who happen to have mental health conditions are footballers. They aren't required to be 'positive mental health footballers'.  People who play guitar who happen to have mental health conditions are guitarists, not mental health guitarists.  People who are arts tutors who have a mental health condition are arts tutors.  By continuing to tag mental health on mainstream activities and aspirations there is a danger of recycling stigma and not allowing people to move into valued social roles.

Could anti-stigma be the new stigma?

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