Addressing the stigma attached to mental illness

In the second of our month-long blog series, Councillor Joanne Harding, who represents the Urmston ward, addresses the stigma which is so often attached to mental illness.

Councillor Joanne Harding

My name is Joanne Harding, I am a Labour and Cooperative Party Councillor, a parent, somebody who has worked in mental health services for many years, and I suffer with anxiety. Sometimes my anxiety has been so disabling I have struggled to leave the house. I have gotten better at identifying triggers and I use running and exercise a lot to help me manage my symptoms.

I guess the reason I am telling you this is because if you look at my photograph, you can’t tell that I experience crippling anxiety at times. I don’t look like somebody who has a mental health issue.

But what does somebody with a mental health issue look like? Very often stock pictures that are used in the media depict a person with their head in their hands wearing a tortured expression. This can and does paint an extremely misleading picture, an impression that can evoke fear in people. Some people think there is an automatic link between mental health problems and being a danger to others. This perception is often reinforced by sensationalised stories in the media.

Mental health problems can be really difficult for people to cope with but it can be made so much worse by having to deal with stigma and discrimination from others.

I want us here in Trafford to really start to break down those barriers and think about how we get the message out to communities to reduce stigma.

Some ways to do this will be to know facts and get educated around mental health. Help to educate others. Be aware of attitudes and behaviours. Be prepared to challenge. Choose your words carefully and don’t label people, offer support and include everyone.

September is World Suicide Prevention Month and I want to try and really raise awareness and help to reduce the stigma around what can be a really difficult subject matter.

Let’s work together to fight stigma and commit to action on suicide prevention.