Plea to reduce mental health stigma

A BRAVE Ipswich woman whose life has been destroyed by mental illness has today spoken out against the stigma and prejudice suffered by her and others like her.

A BRAVE Ipswich woman whose life has been destroyed by mental illness has today spoken out against the stigma and prejudice suffered by her and others like her.

Around 66,000 people in Suffolk are currently suffering from mental health problems, from anxiety, panic attacks and depression, through to psychosis and schizophrenia.

And like Cathy, who asked for her identity to remain anonymous, they face a constant battle against stereotypes and negative perceptions which are commonly held against people who have suffered mental illness - and prevent them from living fulfilling lives.

She told of her experience as mental health charity Rethink released figures which show two-thirds of people with mental health problems say stigma prevents them from doing everyday things such as going to the shops or making new friends.

Meanwhile Suffolk Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust is continuing with its battle to tackle discrimination through its 'if you only knew' campaign.

Paul Corry, Rethink's director of public affairs, said: "Long term it is essential that the government ploughs hefty resources into tackling the problem, as has been done in Scotland and New Zealand.

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“As an employer, the government could also lead by example and employ more people with mental health problems within its departments, and encourage other public sector bodies to do the same."

Have you struggled with stigma? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

CATHY, who is 41 and lives in east Ipswich, was sexually assaulted while on holiday in Cyprus eight years ago.

Today she spoke out, but asked to remain anonymous, because she said: “I would like to believe if I gave my full name I wouldn't be discriminated against, but I don't have that faith yet.”

As a result she suffered post-traumatic-stress-disorder, developed depression and was then diagnosed with manic depression. Since then she has tried to kill herself ten times, from jumping off the Orwell bridge to taking an overdose of pills.

She said: “I had a 17-year relationship with my partner, a very close circle of friends, a career, I got on with my friends and I had the luxury of taking life and stability for granted - nearly everything has gone now since I became ill.

“My career came to an end because of the discrimination. When colleagues found out I'd been in hospital their attitude towards me changed.

“People would often ask me if I was taking my medication - if I had high blood pressure I wouldn't be asked.”

Cathy finally found medication which helped bring her condition under control, but even now life is still not easy. She has good days where she feels she can take on any challenge, and bad days when getting out of bed is a momentous struggle.

But even on the good days the challenge of facing society's prejudices about mental illness is huge.

She said: “People don't talk about mental illness in the way they talk about other conditions and they should. Tackling stigma is so important - it would help me so much.”