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Support Agency Urges New Zealanders to Speak Up

17 December 2004

Community Support Agency Urges New Zealanders to Speak Up

A major provider of community mental health services says its Christmas wish is for the silent majority to be less silent about their compassion for people with psychiatric illnesses.

Richmond Fellowship chief executive Dr Gerry Walmisley says there is a growing understanding about what it’s like to have a mental illness and most New Zealanders are open-minded and supportive. But he says there is a vocal minority that continues to peddle stigma and suspicion.

“We’ve seen some wonderful acts of kindness within communities around the country, but we’ve also seen some appalling acts of bigotry and prejudice against vulnerable people who are trying to make their own personal journey towards a life of independence.

“I firmly believe that most New Zealanders understand the reality of mental illness and are tolerant about people’s difference – I just wish that more people were prepared to speak up when they hear people airing their prejudices in public.”

Dr Walmisley says the Human Rights Act should be amended to prevent hate-speech against people with disabilities. “At present hate-speech is illegal only if it’s made on the basis of racial difference. I believe it is time for this legislation to be reviewed so that people with mental illness or intellectual disability have a similar level of protection. In this day and age it is unacceptable for people to make claims that have no basis in fact and attempt to alienate people who need the community’s protection.

“One in five New Zealanders will at some time in their life have to deal with a major mental illness. There has been some excellent progress in breaking down stigma in recent years and it’s time we challenged the suspicion that some people still cling to. We can do that by speaking up for people with mental illness when we hear others expressing their prejudice.”

About Richmond Fellowship Richmond Fellowship is a major provider of community health and support services throughout New Zealand. The Fellowship has developed specialist services for a range of purchasers including the Ministry of Health, Crown Public Health, Child Youth and Family Service and District Health Boards.

Services include support programmes for people with mental, psychiatric or psychological illness, respite and emergency support, consumer based drop-in services, specialist youth services and dual diagnosis services (including intellectual disability/mental illness).


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