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Category: Health

Ralf Little supports WellHappy

As promised, The Media Mind interviewed actor Ralf Little at the launch of WellHappy, a health app for London’s young people. Here’s what he had to say:

The Two Pints of Lager and A Packet of Crisp‘s actor attended the event with fashion designer Sadie Frost in support of the WellHappy app.

The app was produced by myhealthlondon, YoungMinds and Living Well.

In this video, Ralf speaks of why he supports the new project.

When asked about how open people are with talking about mental health today, Ralf said:

Everybody has a sex drive and sex questions, that’s just a way of life. People are a lot more reluctant to talk about mental health.

Sadie also spoke to The Media Mind about her personal experience of anxiety in this video.

We also spoke to the creators of Well Happy, Kat Cormack and Devika Chowdhury, about their work. Watch our video with them here.

London band, Mammoth Sound, also performed live at the event designed to encourage open discussion about sex and relationships, mental health and substance misuse.

The app is available from the Apple store here and the Google play store.

Category: Health

Negative attitudes to mental illness are not shifting – and the media may have something to do with it

Overall public attitudes towards mental health have not improved significantly since the mid 1990s.

Meanwhile, the proportion of newspaper reports which adopt a stigmatising tone towards mental health has not improved either, suggesting that the media may have played a role in maintaining these negative attitudes.

Many people continue to hold negative and discriminatory beliefs towards mental health, despite the extensive work of anti-stigma campaigns such as Shift and Time to Change, as well as a number of celebrities opening up publicly about their mental issues.

One in six people continue to believe that one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and will-power, whilst one in five think that as soon as a person shows signs of mental disturbance, they should be hospitalised. Both these figures have remained largely unchanged between 1995 and 2011 (see graph below).

Indications that attitudes were slowly improving in the late 1990s were short-lived. The proportion of people agreeing with negative statements peaked again most notably in 2003 and again in 2011.

One area which has seen a slight improvement is the idea that people with mental illness are a burden on society, the proportion of people agreeing with which has decreased by 5 percent since 1995.

Yet, on the whole, figures have remained relatively constant over this 16 year period.

Negative Attitudes v Personal Experiences

Stigmatising beliefs such as these can be highly damaging. Of the people surveyed by Time to Change, 60 percent said the stigma they face from the public is worse than the symptoms of their mental illness.

However, a study recently published in the British Journal of Psychiatry does show that the number of people reporting discrimination from friends and family fell between 2008 and 2011.

I asked psychiatrist Dr Claire Henderson to offer an explanation for this discrepancy. She suggests that it is much easier to influence the way people behave with those they are close to than to change people’s attitudes more generally.

“Someone’s behaviour towards someone they know who has a mental health problem could improve in the absence of their attitudes to mental illness in general changing very much”, commented Henderson.

The Role of the Media

Two studies allow us to compare this data on public attitudes and personal experiences with newspaper coverage of mental illness since the mid-1990s.

Guardian journalist Mary O’Hara’s research into newspaper reports found little change in the proportion of negative articles between 1995 and 2009. In fact, she found that tabloids had become more negative with regards to mental illness.

A study published this year in the British Journal of Psychiatry illustrates a continuation of O’Hara’s findings since 2009.

O’Hara’s and the BJP statistics reveal that, like public attitudes, the proportion of negative articles has also remained steady – at around 45 percent – throughout the period between 1995 and 2011.

These findings suggest that the media has played an important role in influencing attitudes, especially since many of the negative ideas evident in newspaper reports are reflected in the data on public attitudes.

Sensationalist headlines can create misleading impressions of mental illness. ‘You still do see ‘crazed’ or ‘psycho’’, says O’Hara, ‘and they’re usually in relation to people committing violent crimes’.

15 percent of headlines in O’Hara’s study and 18 percent of articles in the more recent BJP study made a link between mental illness and dangerousness. This connection is also prominent in the public attitudes data – a third of people would describe someone who is mentally ill as ‘someone prone to violence’.

The media ability to generate and maintain stereotypes such as the association between mental health and violence is highlighted by psychologist Dr Otto Wahl who has conducted extensive research into the powerful role of mass media images of mental illness; images which he asserts are largely false.

Indeed, leading charity Mind asserts that people with mental health problems are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than the perpetrator.

But why would media coverage have such a powerful influence on public attitudes but little influence on how people behave in more personal roles?

“If you already know someone with a mental illness then subsequent media coverage seems less likely to impact on your behaviour towards them”, suggests Dr Henderson.

This discrepancy may hold an important lesson for anti-stigma campaigns, says Dr Henderson. It suggests that reducing stigma and discrimination might depend on more social contact between the public and those with mental health problems.

The negative attitudes towards mental illness which many people continue to hold are likely to be due to a combination of factors rather than solely due to stigmatising media coverage.

But statistics do suggest that the continuation of sensationalist and inaccurate media coverage is having an important influence on public attitudes and helps to explain why people a significant proportion of people continue to hold false ideas and stereotypes about people with mental health problems.

Category: Health

Mental Health services spending cuts: “Counter Productive”

A leading mental health charity has warned that spending cuts on council mental health care are being hit more than other social care services, and that it will put extra strain on the NHS if they continue.

According to data collated by The Media Mind, spending on mental health services, designated as services for people “under 65 with mental health needs” has fallen by 5.4% over the last three years. This is roughly five times more than spending for social care has been cut as a whole, around 1.1% over the same time period.

In response, Mind – the leading charity on mental health services across the UK and – has criticised the culture of austerity as “counter-productive”.

Amy Whitelock, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, told us:

“The figures suggest the cuts are disproportionately falling on mental health care and support. Social care can be a crucial lifeline for many people with mental health problems, helping them to stay well, manage their condition and live independently in the community.”

Across England, services provided by local authorities for these mental health services were worth £1.14 billion in 2010/11, falling to £1.07 billion in 2012/13. This figure is expected to fall further in future.

Usually funded by county councils, unitary authorities, and London’s borough councils, these services include drop-in centres, sheltered housing, and addiction support services. The NHS compliments this service, but local authorities are often considered the “frontline” in mental health social care, and provide support for those in the community that do not require NHS treatment.

Amy Whitelock added that cutting funding to these services will mean more people who need the care will be turned away by councils as they struggle to balance their books. She added: “People who are denied social care are likely to become more unwell, in turn putting more pressure on health services.”

The Care and Social bill, which was announced in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday, was supposed to lay out people’s rights to social care, but with the cuts to mental health services being only one chunk of the cuts to social care spending as a whole, it may see more onus placed on an already stretched NHS, rather than local authorities.

Some up, some down

However, not all councils are cutting back.

The City of London is one of the few whose budgets have risen in the last three years. But that’s not what is most surprising about the City of London. They spend more than double that per person than any other council in the country.

£195 per head is spent on social care services for people under 65 with mental health needs. To put it in perspective, Camden – the second highest spender in terms of per capita for mental health services – spends £67 per head.

But with only 7,400 people who actually live in the City of London, what does that money go on?

Marion Lang, the service care manager for City of London, pointed out that most of the money goes on helping the homeless.

“Historically the City of London has had a commitment to working with the homeless who, after being connected with the city, become the City of London’s responsibility to support if there are no other discernible connections with another authority.”

The City of London commissions its own homeless person’s charity, called Broadway. Broadway works with over 7,000 people every year to provide housing and support for those without.

But City of London are one of only the few out of the 154 councils responsible for this spending who have had an increase in their budget for mental health services.

Despite some councils actually increasing spending, Mind are quick to criticise the overall government attitude to spending, saying that “making cuts to save money in the short term is counter-productive.”

Source: Department for Communities and Local Government