Communications: Rethink undeterred by Churchill row

Rethink's campaign in Norwich to challenge the public's perceptions of people with mental health problems has already attracted more than its fair share of controversy.

Despite having the support of Dr Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North, the charity was forced after only three days to remove a statue depicting the former Prime Minister Winston Churchill in a straitjacket following a storm of protest.

Churchill, who was voted Greatest Briton in a high-profile BBC poll in 2002, was shown in a straitjacket to represent the barriers that people with mental health problems face. The former premier was himself prone to depression.

The statue was outside the city's Forum building. The managers of the building ordered its removal five days earlier than planned, citing complaints from other tentants and members of the public who thought it insulting.

After the statue was removed, mental health service users protested at the location, wearing gags to symbolise censorship.

Paul Corry, director of campaigns and communications at Rethink, says: "Churchill was an incredibly high achiever, but he had to hide his depression.

"The overwhelming view of our members was that, although putting up the statue was potentially risky, we should press ahead.

"We are disappointed it has opened such a can of worms, but we now realise that the public understands mental illness less than we thought. On the plus side, it has generated a lot of interest and started a debate."

The wider campaign is costing £100,000, making it one of Rethink's most expensive projects. Norwich might be well-known as the home of comedian Steve Coogan's fictional radio presenter Alan Partridge, but the city has a higher suicide rate than the national average. It is also home to an abnormally high proportion of people who take medication for depression.

Corry says: "It wasn't planned, but on the first day of our campaign the local primary care trust launched a report showing that it spends £1m a year on anti-depressants - 30 per cent more than the national average."

Yesterday, the charity held a GP day, distributing leaflets to every GP in Norwich to make them aware of other available treatments.

The idea for the campaign came from the charity's members and service users. "We carried out a survey to find out what most concerns our members, expecting it to be something such as the lack of funding for treatments," Corry explains. "But what kept emerging was that they wanted us to do something to tackle discrimination."

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