DISCLAIMER: This content discusses discrimination or discriminatory violence, such as homophobia, racism, sexism, and ableism, which some people may find triggering.
Mental health problems affect countless individuals in the UK, yet there remains a pervasive stigma surrounding mental health. Discrimination against people with mental health issues is prevalent in various aspects of their lives, exacerbating their problems. This discrimination can come from society, employers, the media, and even friends and family. Additionally, internalized stigma further compounds the negative impact by causing individuals to believe the negative stereotypes or messages about themselves.
How do stigma and discrimination affect individuals with mental health problems?
Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems report that stigma and discrimination have a detrimental effect on their lives. Individuals with mental health issues face significant challenges in finding employment, establishing stable relationships, securing adequate housing, and integrating into mainstream society. Moreover, stigma and discrimination can exacerbate mental health problems and impede individuals from seeking the help they need. Social isolation, inadequate housing, unemployment, and poverty are all intertwined with mental ill health, creating a cycle that traps people in illness.
Furthermore, individuals may face multiple forms of stigma, including those related to race, gender, sexuality, or disability, which further compound the difficulties they encounter.
Why are individuals with mental health problems subjected to discrimination?
Discrimination against individuals with mental health problems stems from various factors:
- Stereotypes: Society tends to hold stereotypical views about mental ill health. Some people erroneously believe that individuals with mental health problems are dangerous, when, in fact, they are at a higher risk of being victims of violence or self-harm rather than perpetrators of harm to others.
- Media portrayal: Media reports often link mental ill health with violence or portray individuals with mental health problems as dangerous, criminal, evil, or severely disabled, unable to lead fulfilling lives.
Taking Action Against Stigma and Discrimination
While the Time to Change campaign aimed at transforming societal attitudes towards mental health problems has concluded, their website continues to offer valuable information on challenging stigma and discrimination. The website provides tips on engaging in conversations about mental health, such as simply asking someone if they are truly okay when they claim to be fine. Demonstrating that there is no shame or stigma attached to discussing one’s feelings can make a tremendous difference. Time to Change also offers resources for workplaces and schools seeking to promote mental health understanding and combat stigma.
In Scotland, See Me, an anti-stigma organization, provides resources and activities for challenging stigma and discrimination in addition to valuable insights into the subject.
Join our Network
For those interested in engaging in further mental health advocacy, joining OPEN, our experience network, offers an opportunity to contribute to shaping our initiatives. OPEN is an online community that values input ranging from brief feedback on social media posts to participation in research projects. We welcome individuals with diverse mental health experiences, whether positive, negative, or somewhere in between.
I’m experiencing discrimination – what are my options?
The Equality Act 2010 protects individuals from discrimination and provides a means to address it. It is illegal to discriminate against people with mental health problems in various contexts, including employment, services (hotels, restaurants, public transport, hospitals, local councils, places of worship), and interactions with organizations involved in public functions (tax collection, law enforcement), as well as in purchasing or renting a property.
To be protected, you must demonstrate that your mental health problem qualifies as a disability. Even if you do not personally identify as disabled, the Equality Act may still protect you if your condition meets its definition of disability. This entails having a long-term mental health problem that substantially impedes your daily life. For more information on how this definition applies to you, consult Mind, a mental health charity.
Discrimination can manifest in various ways, including direct discrimination (being treated worse than others due to your mental health problem), indirect discrimination (being at an unfair disadvantage due to organizational arrangements), discrimination arising from your disability (negative treatment resulting from mental health-related circumstances, such as reprimands for medical appointments), harassment (intimidation, offense, or humiliation), and victimization (ill-treatment stemming from making a complaint).
If you are experiencing discrimination, try following these steps to address the issue:
- Talk to someone informally: Begin by speaking directly with the individual or organization responsible for the discrimination.
- Make a formal complaint: If an informal conversation fails to resolve the matter, consider filing a formal complaint, preferably in writing. Clearly explain what went wrong and what resolution you seek, such as an apology, explanation, or improved service. Your complaint should undergo a thorough investigation, and you should receive information about the outcome.
- Complain to the ombudsman: If your formal complaint does not yield satisfactory results, you can escalate the matter by turning to an ombudsman. Mind provides detailed information about the appropriate ombudsman to contact in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, as well as how they operate.
- Make a legal challenge: If attempts to resolve the issue through the ombudsman prove unsuccessful, you may consider pursuing a legal challenge.
Remember that you need not navigate these steps alone. Seek support from friends, family, or professional advocates who can assist you throughout the process.
Additional Resources and Information
- The Equality Advisory and Support Service offers assistance and advice for individuals who have experienced discrimination.
- Advisory, Conciliation, and Arbitration Service (ACAS) can provide guidance if you believe you have been subjected to workplace discrimination.
- Civil Legal Advice (CLA) can determine if you qualify for legal aid when pursuing a legal challenge.
By combating stigma and discrimination, we can collectively create a more inclusive and understanding society that supports individuals with mental health problems, enabling them to lead healthier and fulfilling lives.