The politics of stigma

By John Coburn - on 10/10/2014

On World Mental Health day, HACT Networks Manager John Coburn blogs on how work by the UK housing sector to combat the stigma of social housing can offer lessons and hope to those tackling other stigmatised issues, and in particular around mental health.

Quite often in the housing sector we talk about the ‘stigma’ of being a social housing tenant.  We know the familiar tabloid stories of no-go estates with troubled families.  Thankfully though we know the real truth.  But too often the stigma that is placed on our residents, is created by our silence in not putting forward the case for social housing and telling the stories of the fantastic people who live in it.  This vacuum enables our opponents in the media to create a narrative of the deserving and undeserving poor, and thus social housing tenants are seen as part of the problem. 

However, social housing is progressive and transformational and we should celebrate it; and more so the people living in it are good people, the same people as you or I with the similar dreams and aspirations.  There are great campaigns that are challenging this such as SHOUT for which HACT’s Chair Tom Murtha is a leading advocate and the fantastic #housingday – taking place on 12 November.  The fightback has started.

In the same vein our so-called modern liberal society pays lip service to other groups who often feel excluded – the mentally ill, those with addictions, and the abused.  Their lives are often a constant struggle.  And while caring hard-pressed professionals can eventually reach out and support them; their longer-term goals are rarely met.  They go out into the world with a label, and are left disempowered and alone.  Often, as housing professionals we find ourselves working to pick up the pieces left by the rest of society’s inability to accommodate their needs.

Its why I was so pleased to see mental health issues brought back onto the national stage in the most recent of the party conferences, with an announcement of a radical new approach to prioritising how the state and society should treat mental health.  I agree with Nick Clegg’s assertion that the taboo over the issue must end.  Indeed I am one of those 1 in 4 people who suffers from a mental health condition.  And learning from the social housing campaigns I can’t be passive; I have a role and responsibility in ending the stigma around mental health and to put forward my perspective as a service user.  We cannot leave this to the politicians and the media, it has to come from us.

See here info on World Mental Health day:

John Coburn, 

Networks Manager, HACT


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