Tag Archives: EastEnders

People with learning disabilities still face discrimination

Discrimination against people with learning disabilities is still rife in the UK, with a third of people still believing that they cannot get a job or live independently, according to a new survey.

Health and social care provider Turning Point has found that 9 out of 10 people believe people with learning disabilities are still discriminated against, with 51% saying they are the most discriminated against group in society.

This is not necessarily a revelation – everyone involved in the sector knows that it is rife – but does show how much still needs to be done if people with learning disabilities are to be truly integrated into society.

OK, while it is a survey of only 1,100 adults and nobody knows whether it was weighted to get certain results etc – I know some people are sceptical of statistics – but taking these on face value from a reputable source it nonetheless provides snapshot that can at least create a debate about the topic.

From looking at the survey results, a lot of this discrimination seems to be down to a lack of public understanding about people with learning disabilities and how they live.

For instance, the survey found that 8% still expect people with learning disabilities to be cared for in a secure out-of-town hospital, while 23% believe they live in care homes.

Whether these views are borne of ignorance or prejudice, all this shows that information campaigns about learning disabilities need to be redoubled. Some of the findings show a basic lack of knowledge – such as identifying mental illness as a learning disability – that needs to be addressed.

Adam Penwarden, Turning Point’s Director of Learning Disability Services, hits the nail on the head: “As a sector, we need to work together to challenge preconceptions and show what a positive contribution to society people with a learning disability can make. This includes working, living independently and playing an active role within the local community.”

There have been high-profile anti-stigma campaigns for mental health in the past couple of years and perhaps the time has come for a similar campaign for people with learning disabilities.

Another way to break down stigma would be to have someone with learning disabilities become a regular member of the cast of one of the major soap operas. While this may sound flippant, it can work – the Stacey Slater bipolar storyline in Eastenders (which I blogged about previously here) has helped to bring the condition into the mainstream and increase understanding.

Yes, I know Billy and Honey Mitchell had baby Janet, who has Down’s syndrome, but that character has all been written out now. I am thinking more of an adult/teenage character.

While better information about learning disabilities would not be a panacea – stopping discrimination is an ideal only – it would at least eat into those statistics and provide a good basis for further work.

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EastEnders bipolar storyline helps tackle stigma

I’ll make this clear at the outset; I’m not a fan of EastEnders. My wife is, and I occasionally take a passing interest in it. Honest.

But there is one storyline that has really piqued my interest in the past year or so; Stacey Slater’s gradual development of bipolar disorder.

For those who aren’t regular viewers, Stacey’s behaviour became gradually more erratic over the summer, before a final climatic breakdown and sectioning in full view of the residents of Albert Square late last year. The character has since had treatment and returned to the Square.

Lacey Turner, who plays Stacey, has garnered much praise for her portrayal of the character, from TV critics and mental health organisations alike. At the National Television Awards last night she won the best serial drama performance award to add to several others she’s already won in the past few months.

But there is much more to this than Lacey Turner needing to think about buying a bigger trophy cabinet; there is evidence that it is helping young people with bipolar disorder to seek help and tackle the stigma associated with mental health issues.

MDF The Bipolar Organisation says the number of young people calling its helpline has doubled in the past 6 months, from about 400 a day to more than 800. It believes this is mainly down to the Stacey Slater storyline, according to a report on the BBC’s Newsbeat website.

In addition, the BDRN (Bipolar Disorder Research Network) said that within 48 hours of the EastEnders Revealed episode of Stacey being bipolar they had 8,536 visitors to their website.

This is also a long-term commitment from EastEnders; Stacey Slater is now pregnant, and to coincide with this, MDF and BDRN are focusing on bipolar and pregnancy, to hopefully further attack the stigma around the condition.

It just goes to show that soaps can be much more than just TV escapism. If they tackle big issues well – EastEnders’ scriptwriters have worked extensively with mental health charities such as Mind to ensure that the storyline is as true-to-life as possible – they can bring about real change.

I’m still not going to admit that I like the show, though.

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