Nathan Filer Talks Mental Health

1 October 2019

Too much emphasis on stigma and too little on poverty and discrimination could be undermining efforts to improve mental health.

Successful writer and former mental health nurse Nathan Filer will tell an audience at Wigtown Book Festival this Sunday that decision makers are being let off the hook by the trend to medicalise the issue while losing sight of social triggers and causes.

He also believes that while social discussion of mental ill health is more open and widespread than in the past it often lacks real depth of understanding.

Nathan said: “A lot of current conversation has been around depression and anxiety but other experiences have been left behind, like what tends to be called ‘schizophrenia’.

“Many anti stigma campaigns, which have done very welcome work, have adopted a ‘disease’ model of mental illness, treating it like a broken leg.

“In fact what we know is that if you are poor, were abused, bullied or experienced adverse childhood events you are much more likely to suffer mental health problems. 

“That can ultimately play into the hands of those in power because it individualises the issue and gets us away from the fact that many of these people wouldn’t be poorly in the first place if we tackled wider social issues.

“Things like stigma are also rather woolly concepts – we don’t talk about the challenges women or black and ethnic minority people face as being stigma, we quite rightly talk about sexual and racial discrimination.

“With mental illness we need to talk far more about the ways in which some groups are discriminated against. And while it goes without saying that we need more money in the NHS and in mental health services we also have to understand the need to tackle the discrimination that leaves so many people less equal and poor.”

Nathan won the Costa Book of the Year Award for his debut novel The Shock of the Fall about a young man with schizophrenia.

His latest work, The Heartland, is a work of non-fiction that challenges assumptions and debunks myths about schizophrenia in which he speaks to everyone from the people whose lives have been affected by the condition to world-leading experts on its treatment and causes.