Attitudes to mental illness 'changing for the better'Despite positive findings of Department of Health's report, campaigners warn that negative attitudes to mental illness remain entrenched
Alastair Campbell, former press secretary to prime minister Tony Blair, and the winner of Mind's Champion of the Year award for his significant contribution to raising awareness of mental health. Photograph: Tom Stoddart/Getty Images
Attitudes to mental illness are changing for the better but with some alarming exceptions, a new report out today claims.
The report for the Department of Health (DoH) concludes that more people regard mental illnesses as an illness \"like any other\" than 15 years ago and that far fewer assume people with a mental illness are dangerous.
The research found that almost three quarters of people (73%) felt that people with mental health problems had the same right to employment as the wider population – up 7% on last year.
However, the report also found that attitudes on some aspects of mental health remain negative. According to the report almost a third of 16-to 34-year-olds believe it is easy to distinguish people with a mental illness from \"normal people\" while 11% of the population confess to not wanting to live next door to a person they knew had a diagnosis.
Campaigners, including those tasked by government with changing public perception of mental illness in the coming years, have warned that negative attitudes remain stubbornly entrenched, especially with regards to serious conditions such as schizophrenia. They have also cautioned that persistent links in the media between violence and mental illness foster negative stereotypes. The DoH report has been welcomed as a clear sign that progress is finally being made.
Sue Baker, director of the Time to Change programme, which is tackling the stigma around mental health problems, 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.
\"Nearly nine out of 10 people with mental health problems have been affected by stigma and discrimination, with two thirds saying they have stopped doing things because of this.\"
Mind's chief executive, Paul Farmer, added: \"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.\"
Paul Corry, director of public affairs at the charity Rethink, said the time had come to be ambitious when it came to changing attitudes: \"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.\"