Time to Change our attitudes about mental health at home and abroad?

One in four adults in the UK experience mental illness, yet, mental health is not just a UK issue. For many millions of people worldwide, especially those living in poverty or excluded from their communities due to stigma, depression and worse can follow.

Time to Change has encouraged people in England to talk about mental health and to end the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illness. Last month, The Leprosy Mission, supported by Time to Change Director Sue Baker, held a workshop with the Government of Sri Lanka to discuss ideas for developing a nationwide social marketing campaign to raise awareness about leprosy and break down the stigma against this disease.  

Sue Baker said: “The stigma and discrimination experienced by a person diagnosed with leprosy can have a devastating effect on their life and a profound effect on their mental health.”  This is Felshiya’s story.  

Felshiya, a single parent from northern Sri Lanka, diagnosed with leprosy, explained:

“The first time the doctor told me I had leprosy, fear came over me, followed by the worry of what will happen now? I felt as though he was giving me a death sentence.”

“The doctor did not realise how his diagnosis of leprosy would affect me. Although he saw my physical pain and treated the external symptoms of the disease, he could not see what was going on inside my head.

"I was terrified about my family, my child and what my husband would think. When my husband heard the news, he left me and I was alone with my child. I felt very stressed and lonely and I wanted to die.” 

Sue continued: “Felshiya’s story touched my heart. It is clear that any social marketing campaign to raise awareness about leprosy needs to consider not only the physical aspects of the disease but also how it effects a person’s mental health.

"It is essential that the ancient myths about leprosy are challenged and that those who have lived experience of the disease and who have experienced discrimination are supported to speak out.

“I look forward to continuing to support The Leprosy Mission and the Sri Lankan Government Anti-Leprosy Campaign, helping to ensure that the mental health of people affected by leprosy, like Felshiya, is integral to development programmes.”

The workshop, run by Siân Arulanantham from The Leprosy Mission, was a great opportunity to share with the Sri Lankan Government, WHO and local charities how Time to Change has helped to break down stigma on mental health in England and the importance of ensuring that those with lived experience are at the heart of any awareness campaign.  

Felshiya was supported by Kaveri Kala Manram, the Leprosy Mission’s partner in Sri Lanka, to recover from the devastation and depression caused by the stigma of leprosy. She has been able to choose a new path for herself and her daughter.