Project aims to reduce the stigma of mental illness

The Look Around Group

The Look Around Group

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AN INNOVATIVE project has been set up to combat high suicide rates among Edinburgh’s Polish community by tackling the taboo of mental health issues.

Recent statistics released by the Polish Consulate revealed that there were 20 deaths per 100,000 within the Polish community compared to 14 per 100,000 for the rest of Scotland.

Capital-based charity Feniks – Polish for Phoenix – launched the Look Around project to tackle the growing problem by training community champions to be actively identifying and supporting people in need within Edinburgh’s 8000-strong Polish community.

Funded by See Me – Scotland’s national programme to end mental health discrimination – Look Around will tackle a number of issues which could be contributing to the high suicide rate, including social isolation, difficulties with employability, a language barrier and misunderstanding of the country’s health care system.

Barbara Wesolowska, communications officer, said: “We believe the language barrier is one of the key problems as many people don’t speak good enough English so when they want to seek help they cannot.

“People may be separated from friends and family, and have come to Scotland to seek a better life and it has not worked out so well.”

The stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness in Poland mean that many in the community do not seek support, she added. Ms Wesolowska, who also works as a dance movement psychotherapist at Feniks, said: “There can be a real taboo with mental health in the Polish community as it is seen as showing weakness.

“Historically it has not been properly recognised as a serious condition.”

Community champions will run workshops in Polish and English covering mental health discrimination, how to listen and talk to people who need support, how the healthcare system operates in Scotland and suicide prevention.

The project is funded by See Me’s Community Innovation Fund, which supports projects to tackle stigma in workplaces, in health and social care, with children and young people, in minority groups and in the general public.

Judith Robertson, See Me programme director, said: “We are building a movement to end mental health stigma and discrimination, and to do this we want to bring people together from all societies.

“Stigma and discrimination can make people who are mentally unwell feel worse. It can stop them asking for help and ultimately could be the difference between life and death.

“This project is looking to open up conversations around mental health to reduce stigma, helping people to seek help.”

Anyone who would like to apply for funding for a project to tackle discrimination around mental health should visit www.seemescotland.org.

lizzy.buchan@edinburghnews.com