Stigma of mental health problems have reduced says Department of Health

9 May 2008

Public attitudes in England towards people with mental health problems remain broadly sympathetic, according to a new survey by the Department of Health.

The public is generally understanding of people with mental health problems, with 85% thinking they deserve our sympathy and more than 8 out of 10 saying society needs to be more tolerant towards them.

A number of attitudes that worsened during the nineties have since started to improve:

- 10% fewer agreed that it is frightening to think of people with mental health problems living in residential neighbourhoods compared with 1999
- The percentage agreeing that locating mental health facilities in a residential area downgrades the area has fallen from 29% in 1997 to 20%
- 5% fewer agreed that a person should be hospitalised as soon as they shows signs of mental disturbance compared with 1997

There are also some signs that fears about coming into contact with psychiatric patients, which worsened during the nineties, have started to lessen again.

About one in six people feel frightened thinking of people with mental health problems living in residential neighbourhoods, having dropped back to the same level as in 1994 after peaking at one in four in 1997.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis said:

"Most people hold reasonable views about mental illness. But the attitudes of a stubborn minority reflect enduring prejudices that should not be acceptable in today's society.

"People simply should not be discriminated against just because they have a mental health problem, any more than they should on grounds of race, sexual orientation, gender or physical disability.

The survey also showed that since 1994, a number of attitudes have worsened:

- 9% fewer respondents favoured a more tolerant attitude in society towards people with mental illness
- 7% fewer respondents thought that those with mental health problems were deserving of sympathy
- 57% agreed those with mental health problems are "far less of a danger than most people supposed", a drop of 5%.

Shift, a Department of Health-funded campaign, is working to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness by encouraging the media to improve its coverage of mental health issues and helping employers to recruit and retain people with mental health problems.

Leading mental health charity Mind seemed to disagree that attitudes had broadly improved. Commenting on the release of the Department of Health's 2008 survey into public attitudes towards mental ill health, Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer said

"Overall, the general picture is that attitudes towards mental health are at best static - it's the reason why some of the leading mental health charities got together to form Moving People, a campaign aimed at tackling stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health problems.

"People with mental distress are still confronted with a barrage of fear and misunderstanding. Shockingly, the survey shows that more people than ever before are now likely to wrongly associate people with mental health problems and violence, and more people would not want to live next door to someone with a mental health problem.

"The cost of stigma cannot be underestimated - it prevents people from being treated fairly in their workplaces and in their communities, and deters people in distress from seeking help when they are in need.

"Social intolerance of any form is a problem not just for the individual, but for society as a whole. This is a challenge for all of us. The  Government, the third sector and individuals need to continue to commit themselves to breaking down these barriers in the long-term."

Posted by, Asif Yusuf



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