Slowly but surely, the stigma surrounding mental health and disability is becoming a thing of the past. Michael McEwan explains why.
Society has opened up about mental health issues in the last decade.. We find more positive messages in the media stating that’s it’s okay to talk about our thoughts, fears and feelings. There are also more platforms highlighting and promoting the many support structures in place for a wide spectrum of mental health conditions.
One of those platforms is the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival, which covers everything from music, film and visual arts, to theatre, dance and literature. The festival aims to challenge perceptions, make connections and encourage participation.
The festival, which is led by the Mental Health Foundation, is also supported by See Me Scotland, a programme dedicated to ending mental health stigma in Scotland.
A 2015 YouGov poll, conducted within a number of Scottish business sectors, found the following:
- 31% of Scottish workers had personally experienced a mental health issue.
- 45% of people felt that someone in their workplace with a mental health issue would be unlikely to disclose this for fear of being discriminated against by colleagues.
- 48% of people felt that someone in their workplace with a mental health issue would be unlikely to disclose it for fear of losing their job.
See Me Scotland’s main aim, and that of many other mental health support organisations, is to engender a society that sees the person and not their disability.
The taboo of mental health has been tackled with support from the media, with many prominent people in the public eye opening up about their conditions. These include football manager Neil Lennon, boxer Frank Bruno, musician Robbie Williams and the writer, actor and broadcaster Stephen Fry.
In a recent episode of the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, comedian and prominent mental health advocate Ruby Wax discovered three generations of women in her family tree who were institutionalised due to mental health conditions.
Media coverage such as this has increased public awareness and helped to decrease stigma and isolation for those living with long-term, life-limiting conditions.
However, we still need to raise awareness about disability. In recent years we’ve seen more disability coverage across the media, with prominent examples including the Invictus and Paralympics Games. These progressive platforms provide a knowledge base for different categories of disability in a way that’s easy for viewers to understand.
Speaking as a viewer, advocate and someone with a disability, my first thoughts aren’t about mental health conditions and disabilities, but increased focus on positive role models who champion ability.