“Everybody has a role”

Changing the attitudes of an entire country is a risky business, Sue Baker tells Mark Brown

Time to Change, the four-year £22 million mental health anti-stigma campaign is the first of its kind in England. Its director Sue Baker knows that such a high profile campaign needs to take risks: “Some people are going to see things they’re not going to like,” she says. “We have to do something different, otherwise how do we engage people who see it all as totally irrelevant to their lives and walk past it? We’re here to change some very hardened attitudes.”

Launched in early 2009, Time to Change is a joint campaign between Mind and Rethink, evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry. For Baker, its energetic and nervy head, it is nothing less than an attempt to change England’s thinking about mental health and wellbeing: “Bring the masses with you and then you silence extreme views. That’s how you get major cultural shifts. We don’t blame people for the fact that there’s been a complete lack of information available to help them become more informed. We need to entice people in. This is something that anybody in the country should and could get involved in, that everybody has a role in.

“The campaign’s material is aimed at people whose attitudes and behaviour need to change,” she says. “People with experience of mental health difficulties are not the key audience. When we did research with the general public, they know about race, gender, sexuality, disability discrimination, but they didn’t know that you can face discrimination if you’ve got a mental health problem.”

‘Like Minds, Like Mine’, New Zealand’s groundbreaking national government co-ordinated anti-stigma campaign, inspired time to Change: “Mind, Rethink and the Royal Institute of Psychiatry were saying for many years that we needed the equivalent of what New Zealand has,” says Baker. “Mind and Rethink were talking to Comic Relief and heard about The Big Lottery Fund and their wellbeing programme and they said: ‘Look, the government’s not funding anything that’s significant enough’ and persuaded The Big Lottery that what became Time to Change could fit under their wellbeing funding programme.”

Local presence, national noise

“You need to have a local community presence and a big national noise. It doesn’t work if you haven’t got the message going out into communities,” says Baker. Time to Change brings together a high profile campaign, local anti-stigma work, work on physical activity and wellbeing and other specific programmes. Explains Baker: “There are the 40 Open Up projects that are user-led, local anti-discrimination initiatives, 32 local, 8 national. We’re training and supporting a new movement of people that are moving into the user movement to tackle discrimination. Get Moving is about getting physically active for your own wellbeing. Then there’s Education not Discrimination targeted at medical students, trainee teachers and now trainee head teacher and head teachers. Time to Challenge is Mind’s legal team taking legal test cases. We have the Disability Discrimination Act: Is it powerful enough? Are there other forms of legislation that need improving to protect people and give them more clearly defined legal rights? We’re likely to have a test case in the future, it’s looking hopeful.”

Baker talks of using something to catch people’s attention, be it an activity or something like the Schizo film then using that opportunity to deliver an anti-stigma message: “We call it an ambush tactic,” she says. “You’ll see more of that in the summer campaign. We’ll deliver the message when people aren’t turning up knowing that that’s what they’re going to experience. They don’t know they’re going to have people with direct experience coming up to talk to them. Top of the agenda for Get Moving is getting people involved in physical activity and getting the message out in person.”

Personal experience

Baker feels that her own experiences of mental health difficulty have underpinned her professional career and have culminated in leading Time to Change: “I’ve had severe depression. A lot of friends of mine experienced mental health problems, and my father did. My first serious partner when I was 21 had schizoaffective disorder. Walking into the unit so many times when she was sectioned and just seeing how staff were treating people was horrifying. She was raped in the wards. And I just thought what the hell is going on? She was incredibly intelligent, her life chances were stripped away, especially in employment. She worked in housing, where you wouldn’t expect discrimination to exist, but then sector after sector discriminated against her.”

After a professional career in PR, including working for Mind, Baker contributed personally to the New Zealand campaign. “Life had turned pretty sour for me in many ways,” she remembers. “I was offered a job in New Zealand to go and work for their big mental health organisation and we were one of the big policy providers to the Like Minds programme. I came back to England after a couple of years and was just so fed up that there still wasn’t anything significant happening here despite the evaluated success of what was happening in New Zealand. I came to see Mind and was told that they’d put in this bid for £20 million and if they got it, they need somebody to start straight away to help establish it. So it kind of felt like fate.”

Shortcomings and tensions

Baker is very aware of the potential shortcomings of the campaign so far. “I think we’ve realised that our call to action needs to be more explicit in next year’s campaign,” she admits. “It wasn’t very clear on how you can really put your weight behind this and get involved. In the next year of the campaign, which will start again next January, we think that might need to be stronger because there was some feedback saying people were a bit confused. Whatever you say in the advert, when they see charity logos they think we’re going to ask for their money. And for once, that’s not what we’re doing.”

Baker accepts that some people with mental health difficulties may find the tone of the Time to Change campaign negative: “I used to be head of media here at Mind for five years,” she remembers. “You’re lucky to get a few features in a women’s mag on the positive side. The stories that we get most media coverage on are stories of discrimination.”

She is keen to stress that Time to Change involves people with direct experience of mental health difficulties at all levels: “We are committed to having user views and experience at the centre of everything we do. I don’t pretend that we get that right all the time, but we are seeking to address that. The Lived Experience Advisory Panel (LEAP) is a formal part of our structures and systems. They were 12 service users and carers; they’re down to 11 now. LEAP has a person on each national project, helping guide the projects and represent LEAP’s views at a management level. LEAP vote every year to have a rep and a deputy rep on the joint management group.”

Acknowledging the tension between reaching the general public and pleasing people with direct experience, Baker is philosophical: “We absolutely cannot afford to alienate people with direct experience. It’s the last thing I think we can afford to do. But we have to do something different to reach certain audiences. I hope that we make it less socially acceptable for people to say and do negative things. It’s all about setting the agenda for people to ‘think oh my God, that’s really not acceptable’. So we have to get to that with people not even realising it existed. And that might mean that we can’t keep every single person.”

This article first appeared in the Autumn 2009 edition of One in Four magazine

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