Judith Robertson: Help reduce stigma of mental health

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Since 2011 Chris McCullough Young has been walking around the edge of the UK speaking to everyone he meets about his mental health, tackling stigma one conversation at a time.

While walking thousands of miles to change people’s attitudes towards mental health is an amazing feat in itself, he has done this with no money, meaning he relies entirely on the help and generosity of the people he meets and speaks openly about his Borderline Personality Disorder.

This is not easy. People experiencing mental health problems often say the reactions and behaviours of others towards them after disclosing the nature of their illness can be more damaging than the diagnosis itself.

In addition, research from the University of Bath, released yesterday, shows that not only do labels like Borderline Personality Disorder lead to people experiencing stigma and discrimination from friends, family and the public, but also from health care professionals, leading to less effective treatments.

However what Chris has found on his walk is that when people are in a neutral setting, speaking face to face, the reaction to him is entirely positive.

He has found that sharing a social space with someone, walking a mile in each other’s shoes, is a brilliant way of getting the mental health message across.

So inspired by this we are now working with Chris to bring together hundreds of people, to walk together in pairs, down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, in Scotland’s biggest ever conversation to tackle mental health stigma.

People will get the chance to see each other as they really are and not as the labels they may have.

We know that health care is an area where stigma exists, often because carers, professionals and people with lived experience of mental health problems meet mainly at times of crisis.

At Walk a Mile, on September 3, there will be no uniforms, no barriers, everyone is on a level playing field, and as Chris says, everyone will get the chance to see how fabulous people really are.

We believe that the best way to start tackling the stigma and discrimination towards mental health is to make it easier to talk about, to make it a topic of everyday conversation.

Often people don’t know how to start these conversations. Asking someone how they are doing, if they want to talk and listening can be just what they need.

At Walk a Mile we will have 500 people talking, listening and showing they care about mental health.

If you want to join them on September 3, register at https://letswalkamile.org/ and use #letswalkamile on Twitter.

Judith Robertson is See Me programme director