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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Health Minister joins schools to take a stand on stigma

Embargoed until 08 October 2010

Music and sports stars have joined psychiatrists, politicians, charities, and companies to ask school pupils not to make fun of mental health problems.

Up to 300 students will pledge to take a stand on stigma at the Royal College of Psychiatrists annual World Mental Health Day event for schools. Health Minister Michael McGimpsey will lead the way signing the pledge at the Odyssey Cinema in Belfast today.

Take a stand on stigma

The pledge has been widely endorsed by the music industry including Gary Lightbody and the Oh Yeah! Music Centre Belfast, band General Fiasco, and Small Town America Records. Northern Ireland and Manchester United footballer Jonny Evans has signed up with the support of the Irish FA, joining sporting bodies including Sport NI and Cricket Ireland. Companies, voluntary sector organisations a wide cross section of the voluntary sector have endorsed the pledge together with MLAs from all parties. See the list of endorsers here.

In a day packed with learning and fun, the kids will learn to laugh for their mental health, not at mental health problems. They’ll try out creative ways to look after their own wellbeing including a laughter workshop, Zumba dancing, African drumming and relaxation as well as exploring how stigmatising mental health can stop people getting help and can make it difficult to recover from mental health problems.

Health Minister Michael McGimpsey will open the event. Mr McGimpsey said: "The stigma which society attaches to mental illness must be eradicated. It prevents people from seeking help, gets in the way of recovery, and erodes the quality of life of those living with a mental illness. People with mental health conditions should not be made to feel ashamed or socially excluded.  But this is exactly what stigma does.  We still have a long way to go before society has an open, mature and constructive attitude to mental health."

Mr McGimpsey will tell the school pupils that "each new generation brings new outlooks and attitudes. Your participation in today’s event testifies to that new outlook. You can help consign this stigma to the past."

Dr Philip McGarry, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Northern Ireland, said psychiatrists had found huge support for the project. He said: "What we’ve found is that in Northern Ireland there is a real groundswell of recognition that mental health stigma needs to stop. People sometimes see tackling stigma as an impossible task. I think this shows people do care, and there’s a real message here for young people that they can make a difference. Northern Ireland has a very high rate of mental health problems among young people, and it’s important that not only do they feel safe to get help early, but also that they find creative ways to look after their mental health."

Dr Stuart Flanagan of Radio 1’s Surgery programme will host the event. "Each week on the Surgery we have young people phoning in to talk about issues they don’t feel comfortable discussing with family or friends. Very often that’s a mental health issue, because there’s still a taboo around the whole subject," Dr Flanagan said. "We need to break that down, kids have to be able to get help from professionals, but also support from family and friends. One way to start the conversation is by talking about what keeps us well, and I hate the cliché, but laughter really is a great medicine, so I’m looking forward to having a bit of a belly laugh myself."

Maebh Harper, 16, has experienced mental health problems and knows first hand the stigma that can go with them. She will talk to Stuart about what she faced, her recovery, and how she stays well.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists, with the Western Trust, has commissioned a play, Wise in the Head, about a young man with mental health problems who stands up to his attackers, and shows how he copes with his difficulties. The play stars Patrick McBrearty, named this year as Ulster’s Most Promising Young Actor, with a cast from Holy Cross College in Strabane.

The Public Health Agency has provided support to the event. "Promoting positive emotional wellbeing is about supporting those people looking for help while ensuring that, from the earliest opportunity, young people start life developing emotional resilience, to equip them to make the most of their opportunities," said Chief Executive Dr Eddie Rooney.

"Instead of potential lives and opportunities being lost, if we can equip the adults of tomorrow to look after their mental health, the way many of us are now protecting our physical health, then that is where our future investments, in this area, will reap the most dividends."

Read further quotes from people who have endorsed the pledge.

For further information, please contact:
Sarah Nevins
Press & Social Media Officer
Telephone: 020 3701 2543
Claire McLoughlin
Media & Communications Manager 
Telephone: 020 3701 2544
Out of hours contact number: 07860 755896


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