Dr Erik Baurdoux, a lecturer in statistics at LSE, has become the face of a new campaign to end discrimination experienced by people with mental health problems.
Erik, who manages depression to lead a full life, took part in the campaign, Time to Change, which involved seven people with mental illnesses taking part in a social experiment by posting ads on dating and flat-share websites. At first the ads appeared without mention of their mental health problem, but after some weeks these were taken down and replaced with the exact same profile but this time with a line disclosing they had a mental illness.
When the results of the two stages were compared, the experiment showed an overall drop of 50 per cent in interest in dating and a 68 per cent drop in interest in living with the participants when their mental illness was revealed.
Erik, who stars in an online film about his experiences in the social experiment, was shocked by his results. Between the two stages, interest in him fell by 81 per cent for dating websites and 76 per cent for flat-share websites.
He said: ‘I was surprised by the social experiment results. The amount of people who didn’t respond after my mental health problem was disclosed was very high, and I found this sad and disappointing. Most people didn’t seem to understand and were ready to turn their backs rather than ask questions to try and gain an insight into the problem.
‘Although I did receive some very negative responses, some were actually quite positive. These were mainly from people who had a friend or family member with a mental health problem, which seems to indicate that when a person knows someone with a mental illness they tend to be more understanding of the fact it can affect anyone and be more open-minded about it.
‘Considering that many people will experience mental illness at some point in their life, I think this experiment provides a strong call for people to talk to and be open to people with mental health problems. This could be a potential partner or flatmate, or a work colleague or friend. We need to get to know people and see beyond the mental illness. People are often afraid what to say but one doesn’t need to be a mental health expert to offer support. It is often the little things such as a phone call or a letter that can make a big difference.’
A YouGov survey commissioned by Time to Change reflected the social experiment results, with 57 per cent of respondents saying they would turn down a date with someone with a mental illness if they were online looking for love, and 60 per cent would not want to rent a room to someone with a mental health problem.
‘It is great to see that LSE is taking the issue of mental health seriously. For example, the recently established in-house Staff Counselling Service is an excellent step towards greater parity between support for staff experiencing mental problems and that for staff with physical health issues.’
Paul Glynn, head of the Staff Counselling Service at LSE, commended Erik for his work with the campaign: ‘I think it’s great that Erik has taken such a lead in helping to reduce the discrimination experienced by those with mental health problems. There is often such a stigma attached to somebody with a mental health problem, which is rarely found with physical health problems. The student and staff counselling services at LSE are just one of the ways that the School supports those with mental health issues and reinforces the need for good mental health alongside physical health.’
Erik’s online film, Don’t Get Me Wrong, and the results of the YouGov survey can be found at www.time-to-change.org.uk/erik.
For more information about the Staff Counselling Service at LSE, visit www2.lse.ac.uk/intranet/staff/staffCounselling/about.aspx. For information about the LSE Student Counselling Service, visit www.lse.ac.uk/collections/studentCounsellingService/.
The Time to Change campaign is led by the charities Mind and Rethink and has been funded by the Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief. For more information, visit www.time-to-change.org.uk/.