One in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, yet mental illness is still surrounded by stigma, prejudice and fear. Only now is the policy agenda changing to ensure that the voice of those suffering from such conditions are heard. A pioneering project, led by Middlesex University's Professor of Mental Health, Professor Peter Ryan, has explored the field of mental health education and training the implications of service user empowerment.
For three years, Professor Ryan led PROMISE (Promotion of Mental Health Minimising Mental Illness: Integrating through Education), a DJ SANCO-funded mental health promotion project between seven European countries. It aimed to develop guidelines for training and education in respect of mental health promotion.
"It was a very exciting project and the focus is something I think is incredibly important and is really central to a lot of the new initiatives within mental health nationally and throughout Europe. It was a great opportunity to link educational and training interests and mental health promotion, looking at how mental health can be positively advocated," explains Professor Ryan.
"Particularly with respect to the caring professions such as clinical psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists and the idea is to really have a look at what these professional groups are currently trained in to see the degree to which positive aspects of mental health and its promotion is covered in their training. We found that without exception across Europe there was very little emphasis positive aspects of mental health."
The research found that mental health service users were socially marginalised, treated differently and often excluded from any kind of consultation on their own treatment.
Professor Ryan says: "Many mental health services have experienced a sense of stigma, been treated as different and inferior, as an object of suspicion and rejection. This is sometimes even by the services that are set up to treat them. Often they are not necessarily regarded as partners in care quite frequently."
The PROMISE team developed a set of guidelines that would lead professionals in training to become more aware of the need to involve service users in their own treatment. Adaptations were provided with regard to traditional prevention themes such as suicide and depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and healthy living for mental health service users.
PROMISE has ensured that mental health promotion is at the top of the agenda across Europe and in the UK it influenced the No Health Without Mental Health white paper published in 2011 which endorses the importance and value of mental health promotion.
"PROMISE as a project tries to reflect upon how mental health professionals are trained, what is stigmatic about their training and how that training can be addressed in terms of guidelines to improve the quality of their training and ensure it covers positive aspects of mental health and fighting stigma," Professor Ryan says. "We hope that our work has in some way helped to destigmatise those suffering from mental health issues."