July 8, 2010

While Time to Change works within England, stigma and discrimination affect people with mental health problems worldwide - and we think of ourselves as being part of an international family of anti-stigma programmes. Over the last few years we have been proud to support campaigns in other countries as they get off the ground by sharing our learning - and in the last few weeks, we have welcomed two new additions to the family!

In Australia, the Queensland government has committed $8.5m over four years to reduce discrimination and encourage social inclusion for Queenslanders experiencing a mental illness, recognising that “stigma not only significantly impacted on those experiencing mental illness, but also had extensive social and economic consequences."

Meanwhile, Ireland's new programme, 'See Change', has been getting underway, with the announcement of the winner of its competition to find an innovative idea for a project to tackle stigma and discrimination.

The winning idea takes a similar approach to some of our own community projects - it's called 'Use the Plot' and, like a lot of our work, aims to bring people who have experienced a mental health problem together with those who haven't. There is lots of evidence to suggest that this approach is one of the best ways to break down negative attitudes.

'Use the Plot' will create community gardens out of unused land, bringing people within the community together to grow produce. The 'social contact theory', as the idea behind all this is called, suggests that activity to create social contact between people of different backgrounds or experiences is even more effective when there is a common goal to focus on. Working on something together, and hearing about someone's experiences directly from them, can encourage people who might otherwise only have had negative stereotypes to inform their attitudes towards mental health issues to think again.

Our Time to Get Moving events work on this basis, too - fun physical exercise events create a reason for people to come together and participate in shared activity, and while they're there, learn more about mental health or share their experiences. And it seems to be working - our latest evaluation shows that 35% of people who attend a Time to Get Moving event come away with a more positive impression of people with mental health problems.

So I wish all the best to See Change and to the Queensland initiative. It's great to see new campaigns develop, to learn from each other, and to be part of an international debate about tackling discrimination.

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