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Survey shows greatest improvement in public attitudes to mental health in 20 years

Tuesday, 07 October 2014 Mind

A new report looks at welcome improvements in public attitudes towards mental health.

New data shows public attitudes towards mental illness have improved significantly with the biggest annual improvement in the last decade taking place in 2013. However, there is still more work to be done to end life-limiting stigma and discrimination according to the mental health anti-stigma programme Time to Change – which is run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness and funded by Department of Health, Comic Relief and Big Lottery Fund.

The National Attitudes to Mental Illness survey was first conducted by TNS in 1993 and additional analysis by the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London has been carried out to measure overall levels of change each year since 2003. The most recent data shows that since the beginning of the current programme of Time to Change (2011) an estimated two million people – or 4.8% of the population - have improved attitudes towards people with a mental illness. It also shows that there was a 2.8% improvement in attitudes between 2012 and 2013 – the biggest annual shift in the last decade. While direct comparisons can’t be made before 2003, it also likely that this is the biggest annual improvement since the first survey was commissioned 20 years ago.

As part of the survey a number of statements are asked to gauge how the general public think about the one in four people who have a mental illness. It also asks about intended behaviour and this year there was a marked increase in the following:

  • A 6% rise in willingness to “continue a relationship with a friend with a mental health problem” (82% to 88%).
  • A 7% rise in willingness to “work with someone with a mental health problem” (69% to 76%).
  • A 5% rise in willingness to “live nearby to someone with a mental health problem” (72% to 77%).
  • A 5% rise in willingness to “live with someone with a mental health problem” (57% to 62%).

The report shows that more people than ever before are acknowledging that they know someone with a mental health problem (64% in 2013 compared with 58% in 2009). However, despite these improvements attitudes around employment are lagging behind and nearly half (49%) of respondents said they would feel uncomfortable talking to an employer about their own mental health.

But overall the picture is one of a general shift to more tolerant attitudes and greater recognition that people should not be discriminated against on the grounds of their mental health. Other major improvements include 79% of people now acknowledging that people with a mental illness have for too long been the subject of ridicule, compared with 75% in 2008. Also, when asked to agree or disagree with the statement ‘no one has the right to exclude people with a mental illness from their neighbourhood’, 83% were in agreement compared with 74% in 2008. Furthermore, majority of the public agree that virtually anyone can develop a mental illness, which this year was up at 92%.

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, said:

“This robust research shows that public attitudes improved significantly last year, and at a far higher rate than over the last 20 years. An estimated two million people in England have improved their attitudes towards those of us with mental health problems over the last two years, adding evidence to the societal change we’ve started to witness.

“In recent years we’ve seen thousands of people starting to speak out, challenging big high street brands that have fuelled stigma and sharing their own experiences to help shift perceptions, including MPs, high profile sportspeople and people in business. However, we shouldn’t underestimate the task ahead of securing long lasting, irreversible and far-reaching changes in attitudes, behaviour, policies and systems. We will have reached our goal when someone can openly share their diagnosis of depression, schizophrenia or bipolar on a first date or at a job interview without fear of a negative reaction.”

Minister for Care and Support, Norman Lamb MP, said:

“Improving attitudes towards mental health problems is central to improving the lives of everyone affected – from getting the best possible care to feeling accepted socially and at work. This research shows just how valuable Time to Change is in the fight against stigma – that’s why we’ve invested £15.3 million in the campaign.

"However, there is still work to do and everyone has a part to play and I particularly urge employers to support Time to Change and join in Time to Talk Day next February. By working together we can make sure anyone with a mental health problem get the support, respect and opportunities they deserve.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said:

“These figures show the fantastic progress that is being made towards reducing mental health stigma. Time to Change has made a serious dent in shifting public attitudes over the last few years. We’ve helped establish a movement of thousands of people who are now actively challenging discrimination in their communities and feel empowered to speak out about their experiences. However, we must not get complacent as there is much more work for Time to Change to do to make sure discrimination on the grounds of your mental health is a thing of the past.”

Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“We are thrilled that Time to Change is having such a measurable impact, and it is particularly timely during this Schizophrenia Awareness Week. Stigma ruins lives – and for some people, it means not only having to deal with a serious illness, but also having to keep it a secret. This can be an incredibly isolating experience and lead to people with mental health problems being less likely to seek support and treatment. Shifting these attitudes is the work of a generation and there is still a long way to go. One of the next big challenges is to improve the attitudes of health professionals towards the physical health of people with mental illness – who are still at risk of dying on average 20 years before their time mainly due to preventable physical illnesses.”


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