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Half of UK adults believe there is still a great deal of shame associated with mental health conditions

Tuesday, 12 March 2024 Mind
  • New survey reveals that half (51%) the UK population believes that there is still a great deal/fair amount of shame associated with mental health conditions.
  • While people believe that the level of stigma around mental illness has decreased over the last five years, over half (56%)[1] of respondents experiencing mental ill health still feel ashamed.
  • More than one in 10 (12%)[2] believe that individuals living with mental illness should be ashamed of their mental health problem.

Over half of people in the UK (51%) say they still feel shamed[3] for living with a mental illness, regardless of the progress over the years to break down the stigma around mental health.

Alarmingly, nearly half of UK adults believe there is a great deal, or a fair amount, of shame associated with depression (48%), schizophrenia (56%) and bipolar disorder (51%). Furthermore, more than one in 10 (12%)2 UK adults believe that individuals living with mental illness should be ashamed of their mental health problem.

This is why the UK Anti-Stigma Alliance – a partnership between mental health charities Mind, Time to Change Wales, See Me Scotland and Inspire – has launched its If It’s Okay campaign.

The study of over 2000 UK adults also highlighted concerning attitudes, with around one in five people believing that “sociopath” (22%), “totally OCD” (22%), and “A bit mental” (20%) are acceptable[4] everyday terms.

These figures come despite two thirds (66%) of respondents saying that the public should be more considerate in the way we talk about mental health to avoid making people feel upset or ashamed.

“It’s okay not to be okay” is one of the most well-used lines in mental health campaigning, but for many experiencing mental illness this does not always ring true.

The campaign is calling on the public to mean what they say when they say, “It’s okay not to be okay”. It also calls on people to challenge shame and discrimination for those living with a mental health diagnosis. The campaign aims to tackle what this phrase might mean in reality for those living with mental illness.

Individuals from all over the UK and Ireland have outlined their experiences and, from today, the partnership is sharing these on billboards in over 150 sites in Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland, as well as on social media.

Natalie from Cardiff said:

“I’ve been told ‘there’s no such thing as depression, people just need to get on with things’ or that ‘you’re the last person I’d expect to suffer mental illness’. Those comments led to feelings of shame when I was really struggling with my mental health.  

“When my burnout eventually peaked, I turned to my GP for support, but I still felt alone and confused after being prescribed SSRIs without an explanation as to what was happening to me or why. It was a few kind words from a nurse taking my ECG reading that provided a moment of realisation for me, she said, ‘this is your body’s way of telling you to slow down love and look after yourself.”

Wendy Halliday, See Me Director, said:

“We want to show that if you are struggling, you shouldn’t have to feel shame, and if you know someone who is struggling, you have an important role in helping them not to feel ashamed.

“By reflecting on our own attitudes and behaviours, we can develop self-awareness and play our part in preventing others from feeling shame.”

Kerry Anthony MBE, CEO of Inspire, said:

“This campaign is about challenging the narrative that many of us know and use so often. We aren’t saying that the phrase 'It's okay not to be okay' is wrong. However, the question we're asking is this: if it’s okay not to be okay then why are people still experiencing shame and discrimination around their mental health diagnoses?

“We are here to tell people living with mental ill health that are they are not alone, that they should feel no shame. We are here to help and support them.

Lowri Wyn Jones, Programme Manager for Time to Change Wales, said:

“Whilst concerted effort and significant progress have been made over the years to normalise conversations around mental health, much still needs to be done to address the fact that some people in our society still experience debilitating shame, often limiting them from living a full and fulfilling life.

“As a nation, we must do better and look inwardly at our own behaviour towards others and how we can become more compassionate and hopefully think twice about what we do, say and act.”

Sarah Hughes, CEO of Mind, said:

“Shockingly, our survey shows that over half of the population associate mental health with shame. That’s why we are campaigning, so more people understand that it really is okay not to be okay.

“No one should feel that they have to go through a difficult time alone. Not talking only makes us feel worse and we want those of us experiencing a mental health problem to feel encouraged to speak up. We are here to listen and help them access the support they need.”

Campaigners say these findings cement the view that everyone has a role to play in ending shame around mental illness, as the language we use in day-to-day life can affect how somebody perceives themselves.

For information about the If It’s Okay campaign, including advice and information for anyone living with a mental health problem, visit:

Join the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #IfItsOkay

[1] “Yes, a lot” and “Yes, some” responses combined. [2] “Strongly agree” and “Somewhat agree” responses combined. [3] “Great deal” and “Fair amount” responses combined. [4]  “Very acceptable” and “Somewhat acceptable” responses combined.

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