Royal Mile walk highlights mental health stigma

The walk makes its way down the Royal Mile. Picture: Ian Georgeson

The walk makes its way down the Royal Mile. Picture: Ian Georgeson

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HUNDREDS of people walked down the Royal Mile to highlight mental health stigma in Scotland.

Walk a Mile brought together more than 450 professionals, carers, people with first-hand experience of mental health problems and a government minister.

It was led by Chris McCullough Young, who has been walking around the edge of the UK with no money, relying entirely on the hospitality of people he meets and speaks to about mental health.

Working with charity See Me, Chris, from Edinburgh, led hundreds of people, including Jamie Hepburn MSP, the minister for mental health, down the historic thoroughfare last night.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, people with mental illness die an average of between five and ten years younger than the general population.

Chris, 50, said: “You have all these groups of people not talking to each other. Social care folk, health folk, people with different mental health problems, there isn’t a huge amount of crossover.

“The idea of Walk a Mile is to get these people who don’t normally talk to each other, who stigmatise against each other, and that goes both ways from professionals towards people with mental health problems and the other way around, to share a mile in each other’s shoes.

“There are no uniforms, no barriers, everyone is on a level playing field, it’s about breaking down prejudice and seeing how fabulous people are.”

Since being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2011, Chris has been walking around the UK, with only his mini trailer “Hubert” and his rucksack “Darth 2”.

He has spoken to hundreds of people about mental health, was run a bubble bath by a stranger, had lunch with Dutch bikers and even contracted Lyme Disease.

He has now reached Wales and, after leading the walk down the Royal Mile, will go on to finish his walk around the edge of the country.

The former social worker said: “You hear about stigma and prejudice, but I found when I’m face-to-face with someone in a neutral setting, and I say I have a mental health problem, people are fabulous.

“The worst thing is people saying, ‘you don’t look like one’. I say ‘what am I supposed to look like?’. People are quick to realise they have made a mistake and you are just a bloke doing his thing.”

Mr Hepburn said: “We are all inspired by what Chris is doing.

“I encourage people all over Scotland to be part of the change by talking about mental health, breaking down the barriers of stigma and discrimination face-to-face, one conversation at a time.”

Judith Robertson, See Me programme director, said: “What Chris has achieved, walking thousands of miles to change the way people think of mental health, is amazing and has inspired everyone joining him today.

“This reflects the importance of getting things right for people and staff whatever the circumstances – whether at a time of crisis or when seeking treatment and support for recovery.

“To bring together more than 450 people from these groups to promote and encourage positive conversations shows how much everyone here wants to understand things better from each other’s perspective.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com