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IoP hosts major summit to challenge stigma and discrimination in mental health

On Thursday 4 July the Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) at King’s College London welcomed distinguished and influential guest speakers and nearly 300 delegates to a day of discussion and debate about the stigma and discrimination often faced by people with mental health problems.

The event presented findings from SAPPHIRE, a five year research programme investigating stigma and discrimination in mental health to promote healthcare access and social inclusion. Led by Professor Graham Thornicroft, this collaborative venture between the IoP and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust is funded by the National Institute for Health Research.

The theme of the conference was ‘sharing stories to stop stigma’, which was explored through plenary sessions featuring guest speakers including Frank Bruno MBE; a ‘living library’ of participants available to discuss their personal experience of mental health difficulties with delegates; a showreel of films designed to counter stigma and a silent auction of art supplied by mental health services users and the Bethlem Art Gallery.

Film: Discrimination Firsthand

‘Discrimination Firsthand’, produced by SAPPHIRE was voted most popular in the NIHR New Media Competition 2013 and is now being used in Personal, Social, Economic and Health Education (PSHE) in schools in Kensington and Chelsea.

The summit began with Sue Baker, CEO of Time to Change, England’s national anti-stigma programme describing their recent campaigns and was followed by a panel discussion on the challenge of disclosing mental health problems, chaired by Dr Diana Rose and featuring: Frank Bruno MBE, former world heavyweight boxing champion; Virginia Ironside, agony aunt; Charles Walker MP (Conservative Party); Kevan Jones MP (Labour Party) and Clarke Carlisle, Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association & Ambassador for the ‘Kick it Out Campaign’.

Dr Sarah Clement, SAPPHIRE Programme Coordinator, introduced the SAPPHIRE parallel sessions on understanding discrimination, the use of mass media to counter stigma and discrimination in relation to healthcare and employment. This important research programme has created new measures of stigma and discrimination, helped us to understand these phenomena better and rigorously evaluated two interventions, one to counter stigma and the other to help those facing it.

Other guest speakers at the conference included:

  • Lord Dennis Stevenson who led the Mental Health Discrimination Act which outlawed mental illness based discrimination in relation to jury service, being a member of parliament or company director;
  • Norman Lamb, Minister of State for Care Services, outlined his visions and plans for changing mental health and mental healthcare;
  • May Gabriel, a teenager whose blog: It’s OK Campaign is based on her own experiences of mental illness and is read in 60 countries;
  • Eleanor Longden who spoke eloquently on diminishing ‘us and them’ perspectives through viewing voice hearing as a meaningful response to trauma;
  • Poet Bill McKnight who read powerful pieces from his book ‘Loud Silence’.

Overall audience debate was passionate, with much focus on the potential stigmatising and destigmatising effects of framing mental health problems as ‘mental illness’ and on issues relating to unfair treatment within mental health services.

Reflecting on the day, Professor Graham Thornicroft, Principal Investigator for the SAPPHIRE programme added: ‘The core message of this conference is about disclosure: that talking about mental illness is the best way to fight stigma. To have so many people openly discussing their experiences of mental illness at the Sapphire Stigma Summit, including celebrities and parliamentarians, will help more and more people to come out in future, so that gradually we can put stigma in the dustbin of history.’

To end the Summit, there was an evening reception featuring an art exhibition and auction (in conjunction with the Bethlem Gallery and curated by Francesca Lassman) which displayed 33 inspirational works by artists with experience of mental health difficulties.

For further information, please contact Louise Pratt, Public Relations and Communications Manager, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, email: or tel: 0044 207 848 5378

This Summit is independent research and knowledge transfer funded by the National Institute for Health Research under its Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme (Improving Mental Health Outcomes by Reducing Stigma and Discrimination: RP-PG-0606-1053). The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the National Institute for Health Research or the Department of Health.