MENTAL health sufferers are often wrongly perceived as dangerous, violent or threatening and patients in Swindon are calling for an end to the prejudice.

While major strides have been made over the years to change mindsets regarding physical disability, very little has improved for people with mental health conditions as ignorance and judgment persist in the workplace and society.

And, although one in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime in the UK, those seeking treatment still feel stigmatised and labelled as different and potentially dangerous.

“Mental health immediately brings the shutters down,” said Susan Coulthard, who is being treated by Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership at Sandalwood Court.

“And whatever a person with a mental illness does it is put down to their illness.

“I’m not saying it never is but it often just comes down to the person not the illness.

“Over the years I’ve seen a change in people’s reaction to physical disability but not mental illness.

“It’s going back to the Dark Ages when someone was called a witch because they were different.”

Nigel Hopkins, 49, an ex-mental health service user from the town centre who sought treatment for anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, said: “Mental health patients are not a threat to society.

“It has become a form of racism. People are frightened of mental illness because they can’t see it.”

Phillip Murphy, 53, of Liden, who suffers from bipolar disorder said: “We need to help break that barrier.

“If one in four people suffer then you would think there would be more understanding.”

And with a supermarket recently peddling a Halloween ‘mental health patient’ costume covered in blood and sold with a murder weapon, steps must be taken to promote openness and fight ignorance, according to Ivor Bermingham, the involvement co-ordinator at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership.

“You are talking about a multinational company with PR teams who come out with an offensive fancy dress costume,” he said. “It goes back to ignorance, lack of education, understanding and awareness.

“We have a lack of awareness in all aspects of mental health right across society.

“It is important that we try to get the message out there that the key is to engage and learn.

“Because of this stigma and judgement some people are afraid to come forward for treatment.”