The overwhelming majority of Britons wouldn’t feel comfortable letting a person with a mental health condition look after their children or marry into their family, new research on attitudes towards mental illness has found.
The research suggests that despite recent strides in awareness about mental health issues, stigma continues to prevail.
Analysis of the NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey shows many Britons say they are still uncomfortable working with or socialising alongside people with depression or schizophrenia.
Researchers described a person experiencing the effects of depression and another person experiencing the effects of schizophrenia and then asked respondents to state how comfortable they would feel interacting with this hypothetical person in a range of circumstances.
When the symptoms of schizophrenia were described, 90 per cent of people said they wouldn’t feel comfortable having them look after their children, 78 per cent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable with them marrying into their family and 44 per cent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable having them as a work colleague.
In addition, 55 per cent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable having them as a neighbour and 45 per cent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable socialising with them.
Similar results were found regarding social attitudes towards people with depression. When presented with a description of a person experiencing symptoms which meet the diagnostic criteria of depression, 82 per cent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable having them look after their children, 64 per cent wouldn’t feel comfortable having them marry into their family and 35 per cent wouldn’t feel comfortable having them as a colleague.
Furthermore, 29 per cent wouldn’t feel comfortable living next door to such a person and 32 per cent wouldn’t feel comfortable socialising with them.
The report's authors conclude: “This might imply that increasing knowledge and awareness among the wider population could help tackle prejudice (though this is undoubtedly an oversimplification of a complex issue). In any case, there is still more to be done to meet government aims of stamping out stigma associated with mental health problems.”
Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at Public Health England, which commissioned the report, said: “Knowing what the public think about mental health and mental illness helps us to develop a public health system that improves people’s mental health alongside their physical health. It is inextricably linked with how we think, feel, behave and relate.
“The survey shows that despite making good progress in recent years in addressing stigma and discrimination, there is still a long way to go in challenging attitudes and behaviours.”
Jo Loughran, Interim Director of Time to Change, the anti-stigma campaign run by mental health groups Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, said: “This backs up our own research showing that too many people with mental health problems are discriminated against by family and friends and at work. Having a mental health problem is hard enough as it is, and negative reactions from others can make it even harder, stopping people getting the help that they really need.
"Every day we hear first-hand the devastating impact that stigma has on people’s lives: causing them to lose jobs and their chance to fulfil their potential, and damaging relationships with friends and family. The research highlights that people with schizophrenia are feeling the benefits of improved attitudes much less than those with depression. We must get to a point where no matter what the diagnosis, no one with a mental health problem is made to feel ashamed and isolated.
Mind estimates that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem every year.
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