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First Published Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Stephen’s story

Stephen Fry has experienced mental health problems for much of his life. But it wasn’t until he was 37 that he was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder. “I’d never heard the word before, but for the first time I had a diagnosis that explains the massive highs and miserable lows I’ve lived with all my life.”

During research for his documentary ‘The Secret Life of The Manic Depressive’, Stephen found out that the illness affects hundreds of thousands of people in the UK. He was also dismayed to discover the extent of prejudice surrounding mental health problems. “I want to speak out, to fight the public stigma and to give a clearer picture of mental illness that most people know little about.”

Stephen thinks better public awareness is essential to help people break their silence. “Once the understanding is there, we can all stand up and not be ashamed of ourselves, then it makes the rest of the population realise that we are just like them but with something extra.”

Source:   http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/what-were-doing/our-campaign/peoples-stories/stephens-story

Ruby Wax

Ruby’s story

Ruby Wax has experienced episodes of depression for most of her life, but it wasn’t until she finally checked into a clinic, that she realised how widespread mental problems are: “It’s so common, it could be anyone. The trouble is, nobody wants to talk about it. And that makes everything worse.”

Ruby has written about depression and used the topic for her one-woman shows as a way of getting the subject out in the open. “We need to take the stigma out of mental illness. People shouldn’t be ashamed of it.” Ruby manages her depression through therapy and medication and is optimistic about the future: “It used to be the ‘C’ word – cancer – that people wouldn’t discuss. Now it’s the ‘M’ word. I hope pretty soon it’ll be okay for everyone to talk openly about their mental health without fear of being treated differently.”

Source(includes video):   http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/what-were-doing/our-campaign/peoples-stories/rubys-story

Frank’s Story

In 2003, Frank Bruno was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  He believes events in his personal life contributed to the breakdown.  “Build-up of pressure, marriage breaking up, someone you love dying, it’s like having three radios on at the same time.”

In his boxing career, Frank won forty fights.  But it was the blows outside the ring, when people found out about his mental health, that really hurt.  “Some people don’t want to know you any more.  They delete you, rub you out.”

Pledge to help end mental health prejudice

Frank has made a full recovery. But he keeps an eye on his mental wellbeing. “I keep training, eat well and look after myself, know what I mean?”

Reacting to the narrow-mindedness he faced, Frank says “If this happens to someone’s father, brother or sister, I reckon it would make them act differently.”

Source:  http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/node/24752

Trisha Goddard

Trisha’s Story

Trisha has personal experience of mental illness, even spending time in a psychiatric hospital.  And compared to when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008, Trisha believes that her mental illness was more difficult to deal with.

“Both experiences were horrible. But with breast cancer, people ran towards me with open arms and hugged me. With depression, people ran away.”

Comparing the two experiences, Trisha sees clear evidence of how people behave differently to those with mental health: “When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was inundated with ‘Get Well Soon’ cards. When news leaked out that I was in a psychiatric hospital following a breakdown, not a peep. And certainly no cards.”

According to Trisha, part of the problem is that people are more comfortable talking about physical health than mental illness. “With breast cancer, people talk about it and wear pink ribbons; people are open about it.”

As Trisha knows only too well, the reactions of other people can make recovery from mental illness even more difficult, quite often without realising it.“When I tried to talk to people about my depression, they made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. They wouldn’t look me in the eye. And that made me feel guilty.”

One in four of us will have some sort of mental health problem, so Trisha’s keen to see an end to this intolerance. “In time, I really hope attitudes can change.”

Source:  http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/trisha


Loneliness a Harsh Reality For Many with Mental Illness

Cathy Heycock


A research study by mental health charity SANE Australia reveals people affected by mental illness pay a high price when it comes to relationships and social contact, with the study showing half have no close relationship with another person.

The research, conducted between September and December 2008, focused on the emotional and physical relationships of people living with a mental illness, the consequences of this for their lives and what can be done about it.

The most disturbing result was the impact of mental illness on personal relationships, with almost half having no friends, wanting to, yet struggling to connect with others. Physical intimacy, which includes hugging and touching others, was rare for many. In fact – astonishingly – almost one in six had not touched or been touched by another person for more than 12 months.

The study found the numbers of respondents who had:
• No close relationship
(General community with no close relationship
• Not touched or been touched by another person
for 12 months
• No sexual contact in last 12 months 35%


SANE Australia Executive Director Barbara Hocking says extreme social isolation is known to damage mental health, yet it is something many people with mental illness have to endure.

“Not only are many people with mental illness dealing with their symptoms and associated problems such as poverty, they are leading isolated lives and often have no partner or even friends to share their lives,” Ms Hocking said. This impedes their recovery.

“While governments are promoting social inclusion, these findings highlight the very real need for immediate, specific action to ensure such basic human needs for social contact are not being ignored.“

Sexual health and intimacy also emerged as areas of concern for respondents:
• Had not discussed the issue with their doctor
or health worker

• Did not know enough about sexual health 65%
• Not receiving routine health checks (e.g. pap tests,
prostate checks)


Ms Hocking says these figures reflect the general poor physical health care provided to people regarded all too often as solely “mental health patients.“

The key recommendations of the report are:

  • *Promotion of social inclusion: recovery-focused rehabilitation programs, to improve confidence, communication and social skills
  • *Support to develop relationships: education and training in how to discuss mental illness and its effect on emotional, physical and sexual intimacy
  • *Improved sex education: mental illness often starts in late teens, disrupting learning of life skills and education. More practical education about sexuality and related issues needed
  • *Sexual health checks: health professionals need incentives to provide regular breast screening, pap smears, STD testing, prostate checks and routine tests.


SANE is calling on government agencies at all levels to improve opportunities for those affected to close relationships with others and improve their capacity for recovery.


Sane Australia SANE Research Bulletin 8:Intimacy and mental illness SANE 2009 Feb;issn 1832-8385   [Full text (PDF)]



If we had turned away Churchill…


Alastair Campbel
by Alastair Campbell
Former press chief to Tony Blair


Charles Darwin
Darwin suffered panic attacks
Tonight Newsnight is covering the report I have written with historian Nigel Jones on famous figures in history who had mental health problems.

The report, for the anti-discrimination campaign Time to Change, is called A World Without… It tries to imagine how different the world would be without the achievements of five giants of history – Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale and Marie Curie.

Why those five?

Because all left a huge mark on the world; also because all of them, at some point in their lives, had what today would be termed mental illness, mainly depression.

Darwin’s panic attacks

As I watch politicians and other public figures deal with the pressures of modern leadership, not least dealing with 24 hour scrutiny by a harsh and often unforgiving media, I sometimes wonder how these great historic figures would have fared had they been alive today.


Winston Churchill
Would another wartime leader have been as successful as Churchill?
As I say in the Daily Mirror, would media and public have been understanding about their conditions, or used them against them?

Let’s say Britain had decided to reject Churchill on account of his Black Dog and his drinking. Would another leader have emerged to lead Britain as he did, to the same outcome, victory over the Nazis? We will never know.

When I read of Darwin’s panic attacks, his stomach disorders, his palpitations and his bursting into floods of tears, I can’t help wondering whether he would have survived a live press conference in the modern age.

“Well,” says the 24 hour news anchor “Charles Darwin in some distress there as he tries to explain his controversial theory of evolution, and it’s hard to see how his theory can gain acceptance if he can’t explain it without crying. Anyway, send us your texts and e mails and help answer the question of the day – should celebrity scientists cry in public? For yes press green, for no press red. Now, more on David Cameron’s new maths czar, Carol Vorderman…”

When I cracked up


Marie Curie in her laboratory
Double Nobel laureate Marie Curie suffered severe depression
As we’re talking numbers – one in four of us will suffer mental illness at some point in our lives. I am among the one in four.

I had a drink problem and a nervous breakdown in 1986. I have had depression on and off ever since. I was really lucky.

When I cracked up, my old boss took me back to my old job, despite his anger at my having left in the first place. And when Tony Blair asked me to work for him, I told him in detail about my mental health history.

“I’m not worried if you’re not worried,” he said. “What if I am worried?” I said. “I’m still not worried,” said TB.

Something to offer

But the stats suggest I am in a minority. Nine out of 10 people with mental health problems say they have experienced discrimination. Four out of 10 employers say they would consider taking on someone with a history of mental illness.

That leaves six out of 10 who would not. Six out of 10 who cannot see that someone with a history of mental illness just might have something to offer.

People who, if a Churchill, a Lincoln, a Darwin, a Nightingale or a Curie had applied for a job, and admitted to their sometimes troubled state of mind, would have turned them away as being unfit for purpose…

Alastair Campbell’s film on the A World Without… campaign can be seen on Newsnight on 9 February, BBC Two at 2230GMT and on the Newsnight website.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale might never have succeeded with modern stigma against mental illness


She became world-famous as the saviour of countless lives and the inventor of modern nursing, but a new report suggests that Florence Nightingale might never have been able to transform hospitals if she had to combat today’s stigma against mental illness.



© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2009

The Role of Gender in Mental Illness Stigma

Barbara Isanski
mental illness

The mentally ill don’t get a fair shake. Many employers don’t want to hire them, and health insurers don’t want to treat their illnesses. Even within their own communities and families, the mentally ill are often treated with contempt and outright anger. There have been many efforts to combat the stigma of mental illness, but with limited success at best. That’s in part because the stereotypes are so powerful: Mental patients are either violently dangerous or docile and incompetent. We fear the first and disdain the latter.

These are not equal opportunity stereotypes, however. The image of dangerous mental illness, including violent alcoholism, is much more often directed at men. Similarly, women are much more likely to be caricatured as pathologically dependent and depressed. Psychologists James Wirth of Purdue University and Galen Bodenhausen of Northwestern University wanted to know if these gender biases contribute to the harmful stigma of mental illness. Specifically, they suspected that when the mentally ill act “out of character,” violating the stereotype, they might arouse more of our sympathy and leniency; if it’s more uncommon, it’s probably more authentic. By contrast, we might be more apt to blame and stigmatize the mentally ill when they conform to stereotype.

The psychologists decided to explore this provocative idea with a national survey. They had a group of volunteers from around the country, varying widely in age, education, and socioeconomic status, read a case history of a person with mental illness. Some read about Brian, who was a stereotypical alcoholic, while others read about Karen, who showed all the classical symptoms of major depression. Still others read switched-around versions of these cases, so that Karen was the one abusing alcohol and Brian was depressed. The idea was to see if the typicality of Brian and Karen’s symptoms (or lack of it) shaped the volunteers’ reactions and judgments.

And it did, without question. As reported in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the volunteers expressed more anger and disgust – and less sympathy – toward Brian the alcoholic than toward Karen the alcoholic, and vice versa for depression. They were also more willing to help Brian and Karen when they suffered from an atypical disorder. Most striking of all, the volunteers were much more likely to view Brian’s depression (and Karen’s alcoholism) as genuine biological disorders – rather than character defects or matters of personal irresponsibility. What this suggests is that stigma-busting campaigns need to closely consider the potentially powerful role of intersecting stereotypes in shaping when and how mental illness stigma is expressed.


Wirth JH, Bodenhausen GV. The Role of Gender in Mental-Illness Stigma: A National Experiment. Psychol Sci. 2009 Feb;20(2):169-73   [Abstract]

The art of surviving mental illness

Paintings in the Wellcome Collection exhibition of Bobby Baker’s ‘visual diary’ of her road to recovery from depression. Photographs: Andrew Whittuck

The composer Giacomo Puccini once said that “art is an illness”, but, for the artist Bobby Baker, painting is the medium through which she has fought mental illness.

Bobby Baker
Diary Drawings
The Wellcome Collection,
Starts 19 March
Until 2 August

The two images above show Baker’s journey from severe depression to wellness over the last 11 years. They are part of an exhibition – opening tomorrow at the Wellcome Collection in London – of 158 of her 711 diary paintings, charting in watercolour the course of her battle with her psychiatric health.

The image above right reveals Baker’s state of mind last summer. She painted it in August, when she was feeling extremely positive about life. “It shows hope,” Baker says. “I feel very lucky to have survived it [her mental illness] and to be in this position now.”

Baker first went to see a psychiatrist in 1996. “I had a great husband, children and career, but I wasn’t able to hold it all together any more,” she recalls. “I ended up weeping, weeping.”

She started to keep a visual diary of her mental illness while attending a local authority day centre in London. Her decision to paint every day until she got well quickly became a way of hanging on. “It was an obsession to keep going,” she says.

The left-hand image depicts Baker’s most depressed and violent feelings. She painted it in 1997, at a time when she was self-harming. “I hate looking at that picture – it’s grim,” she says.

“I was aware I had a mask on and I wondered if I took it off what would be behind it. That’s how I imagined my skull and eyeball to look like. I find it very shocking.”

The road to recovery came when Baker spent seven weeks in an acute psychiatric ward: “I was so angry about the way I was treated that I decided to self-medicate. I prescribed exercise and healthy eating and writing.”

While many artists have had mental health problems – Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko and Vincent van Gogh all reportedly suffered from clinical depression – Baker says she actively used her art as a talking point with the professionals who were trying to help her. “Recovery is about communicating, so if my pictures can communicate with people in some way, that’s great,” she says.

Baker is hopeful about the prognosis for mental health care. She says that although services “are not there yet”, things are much better than many imagine. “We are very negative in this country, but we have some extraordinary practice here [compared to mainland Europe].”

Ultimately, Baker would like mental health services to become much more holistic. “It’s very easy, when you are mentally ill, for people just to look at your mental illness, but recovery is about the whole of you,” she says.

Source:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/mar/18/mental-health-bobby-baker-exhibition

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