Tuesday 21 February 2012

In Our Own Voice

We must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent

Time to Change Wales, a service user-led campaign aiming to reduce the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, will be launched by Health Minister Lesley Griffiths AM at the Wales Millennium Centre this evening. I will be there and I will of course report back to you but meanwhile please see further details and links here.

Hafal's members, people with a serious mental illness and their families, are looking forward to joining with our partners and people across Wales to build a mass movement of service-users dedicated to removing stigma and discrimination backed up with appropriate publicity.

The jury is out on what the most effective way to reduce stigma and discrimination might be so during the campaign we will monitor our approach to see what works and what doesn't work. We will also look beyond Wales for ideas and indeed Hafal's contribution - training people with experience of mental illness to deliver training or to challenge discrimination informally - is inspired in part by the "In Our Own Voice" movement in the USA, a country with its share of discrimination historically and today but also a track record of the people affected (rather than governments or do-gooders) tackling it effectively.

What is clear is that no group which has been discriminated against has ever succeeded in tackling that discrimination without doing it for themselves, by going out and courteously but assertively challenging discrimination within their community and more widely in society.

I am certain that if the people affected choose to "come out" and demand equality then they will succeed in due course, though no doubt major breakthroughs may take longer than the three years for which this particular initiative is funded. By contrast no amount of publicity or messages delivered by well-meaning professionals (including me) will touch the problem without the active, mass support of those affected. That's the challenge in a nutshell.

The campaign, which is funded for three years by Big Lottery Fund, Comic Relief and the Welsh Government, is being supported by Hafal and our friends Gofal and Mind Cymru.