WORKSHOP: Case Study - Tackling mental health intolerance


Background: Rethink is dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by severe mental illness, and their carers. The charity, which helps 7,500 people every day, runs more than 300 community services in the UK including mutual support groups, employment projects, helplines, residential care and respite centres.

It also aims to challenge common misconceptions about mental illnesses and help people understand that there are specific symptoms and methods of treatment, as with any other disability.

In June 2003, Rethink decided to launch its first national awareness and fundraising campaign to carry its message to a wider audience and raise its profile.

Aims: Run from 20-30 June, Rethink Week was based on the theme of representation, raising awareness about how people with a mental illness view themselves, and are viewed by others.

The charity also wanted to change its image. "Rethink has been seen by some people as an exclusively white and middle-class organisation," says service development manager Claire Felix.

In a press release issued at the start of the campaign, Rethink announced that reducing inequalities in access to mental health services would be a priority. This was based on a study revealing that black people who ask for mental health help are 40 per cent more likely to be turned away than whites.

How it worked: In preparation for the launch, Rethink teamed up with the Documentary Filmmakers Group and communication agency Mental Health Media to organise the Reel Madness film festival in London. Each year, this event features a range of films portraying madness and mental distress, and the brutality with which society responds to it.

During the week, the charity circulated postcards among its donors, MPs, black and minority ethnic groups and the media with the message 'Everybody has a label for mental illness. Isn't it time for you to rethink?'. Some 240,000 inserts were also placed in The Guardian in an effort to attract regular donations. The inserts expressed the frustration that mentally ill young people can feel at school or university when they need to concentrate for an exam.

The campaign's main target was black and ethnic minority groups. Advertisements were aired for two weeks on London's black radio station, Choice FM, which invited listeners to phone Rethink for an information leaflet.

MPs with an English constituency and 46 selected peers received a mail pack containing a copy of Who Cares?, a report claiming that one in four carers had been denied access to help in the past four years. The charity also worked with the Royal College of Psychiatrists to support the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mental Health debate that took place during the campaign.

Finally, dozens of regional fundraising events were organised, including balloon launches and music festivals.

Results: The meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mental Health prompted the production of a new strategy document that is now out for consultation.

The film festival generated press coverage in PR Week, The Evening Standard, The Guardian's Friday Review and The Guide, Time Out and Metro. Meanwhile, Rethink Week was covered in The Guardian and specialist media such as African Times, Choice FM, Marketing, Community Care, Care and Health and website

The national fundraising activities raised £80,000, while the regional events generated thousands more that will be spent on local initiatives.

Paul Corry, head of policy and campaigns at Rethink, said: "We are very pleased with the results and expect to do even better this year."

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