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Attitudes towards mental health heading for tipping point

12th June 2009

New Government figures out today (1) suggest public attitudes towards mental health are finally taking a turn. After 15 years where we have seen attitudes deteriorate and deep-seated prejudice, ignorance and fear thrive, there are now signs of improvement. Time to Change, England's biggest anti-discrimination programme led by charities Mind and Rethink, believes that the public are now open to change and this is undoubtedly the time to act to end mental health discrimination.

The Department of Health survey shows improvements including:

  • 77% agree mental illness is an illness like any other an improvement of 3% on last year and up 6% since 1994
  • 73% think that people with mental health problems have the same right to a job as everyone else, up 7% on last year
  • 78% judge the best therapy for people with mental illness is to be part of a normal community, up 8% on last year
  • 61% agree that people with mental illness are far less of a danger than most people suppose, an improvement of 4% on 2008

However, it also includes some more alarming figures:

  • 11% would not want to live next door to someone with a mental health problem, an increase from 8% since 1994
  • Almost a third of young people (16-34yrs) think there is something about people with mental illness that makes it easy to tell them from 'normal people'
  • 52% of young people agree people with mental illness are far less of a danger than most people suppose, 17% less than people over 55yrs
  • 22% feel anyone with a history of mental health problems should be excluded from taking public office
  • When the issue is brought closer to home - only 23% feel that women who were once patients in a mental hospital can be trusted as babysitters.
  • 65% underestimated the actual prevalence of mental illness and only 13% were aware that 1 in 4 people will experience at mental health problem.

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, said: "Attitudes towards mental health issues are finally beginning to move in the right direction. Deep-seated prejudices are starting to shift and it's a further sign that we are heading towards a tipping point in England and that there is a real appetite for change. Our challenge is to turn attitudinal change into behavioural change to reduce the incidents of discrimination that are still so widely reported by people with mental health problems. Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems have been affected by stigma and discrimination, with two thirds saying they have stopped doing things because of this."

"Today's figures are being used as the baseline, against which we will measure the impact of Time to Change over the next three years but this is just the beginning, there needs to be long term investment for a campaign that delivers real behavioural change over the next 15 years."

Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer said: "We have seen some real improvements this year in the tolerance and empathy that people have towards mental health issues. There has finally been a decrease in the number of people who wrongly associate mental health problems and violence. We are also seeing attitudes turning on people's right to employment but we can't be complacent. We have reached a good starting point for the Time to Change campaign and now we need to stamp out prejudice and intolerance once and for all."

Rethink Director of Public Affairs Paul Corry said: "One in five people still believe that anyone with a history of mental health problems should be excluded from taking public office. This is a shocking statistic on the eve of a general election which will be fought against the background of politicians from all parties being seen as out of touch with voters. If we as voters really want politicians to reflect the constituents they serve, we need to change our attitudes and open up Parliament to the one in four people with mental health problems who will think twice before standing and coming out about their experiences."

 

(1) Attitudes to mental illness 2009, Department of Health

 

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