New Research Reveals Alarming Increase In Mental Health Prejudice
Mental health charity Mind have expressed deep concern that public attitudes to mental ill health have deteriorated further, with people now more likely to wrongly associate mental distress and violence.
The research, for the Department of Health anti-stigma organisation, Shift, shows an increase in prejudice across a wide variety of indicators over the last ten years.
There has been a 15 per cent drop in the number of people who disagree with the statement “I would not want to live next door to someone who has been mentally ill” (down 11 percentage points from 74 per cent in 1994 to 63 per cent in 2007).
On employment, only 65 per cent of people now believe that people with mental health problems should have the same right to a job as anyone else (down by 3 percentage points from 68 per cent in 2003) at a time when the Government has been pushing its plans to get people on incapacity benefit with mental health problems back into work.
Mind has long said that the biggest barrier to employment for many people with mental health problems is employers’ attitudes. This research shows there is now even further to go in changing attitudes before people with mental health problems seeking a job can hope to gain employment.
Several indicators suggest younger people hold more prejudiced attitudes. Younger people are less likely to agree that “we need to adopt a far more tolerant attitude towards people with mental illness in our society”. Only 79 per cent of 16-34 year olds agree with this statement, compared to 87 per cent of 35-54 year olds and 86 per cent of over 55s. 16-34 year olds are less likely to believe that people with mental health problems “should have access to the best possible care” (16-34: 86 per cent; 35-54: 93 per cent; 55+: 91 per cent).
They are also substantially less likely to agree that “People with mental health problems have for too long been the subject of ridicule” (16-34: 60 per cent; 35-54: 75 per cent; 55+: 78 per cent).
Young people are also much less likely to agree that mental ill health is “an illness just like any other” (16-34: 59 per cent; 35-54: 75 per cent; 55+: 79 per cent), and much more likely to believe that “one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and will power” (16-34: 53 per cent; 35-54: 70 per cent; 55+: 63 per cent).
Perhaps the most alarming statistic is the 17 per cent increase in people saying that people with mental health problems are “prone to violence” in just four years – up five percentage points from 29 per cent in 2003 to 34 per cent in 2007.
This contrasts dramatically with the situation in Scotland, where a strong, well-resourced anti-stigma campaign has started to turn attitudes round. The Scottish Executive has funded Scotland’s ‘See Me’ anti-stigma campaign at a level more than 40 times per person higher than England and Wales’s ‘Shift’ campaign has been funded.
In three years from 2002 to 2005, the proportion of people in Scotland saying people with mental health problems are often dangerous fell from 32 per cent to 15 per cent, a drop of around half, compared to a 17 per cent increase in the belief in England that people with mental health problems are prone to violence.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “The minister for mental health, Ivan Lewis, has said that this prejudice should be as unacceptable as racism in modern society, and we couldn’t agree more. Sadly, it seems we’re further than ever from making this a reality. The cost of stigma is high. It prevents many people with mental health problems from living normal lives, and it deters people from seeking help when they need it.”
“That young people appear to be most likely to hold inaccurate and prejudiced views about people with mental health problems is particularly worrying. It’s crucial, for their own wellbeing, that young people are confident discussing mental health problems with their peers, without the fear of stigma. We need to transfer the lessons learnt from the successes of Scotland’s anti-stigma campaign to England and Wales.”