pauljenkinsMost people in the UK know more about physical conditions rather than than mental health conditions and feel more confident dealing with a physical health emergency than a mental health crisis, a survey has found.

The survey of more than 2,000 UK adults, commissioned by charity Rethink Mental Illness, found that only 18% said they feel knowledgeable about psychosis, and less than half (46%) about obsessive compulsive disorder.

In contrast, people say they know more about common physical illnesses such as flu, migraine, and asthma, with 79% saying they are knowledgeable about flu.

Mental health emergencies

This trend extends to dealing with health emergencies. Nearly three quarters (74%) indicated that they know how to put someone in the recovery position, but only 56% indicated that they would know what to do if someone was having a panic attack.

To challenge this, Rethink Mental Illness has launched the Mental Health SOS campaign, which urges people to learn a few basic tips to help them support someone facing a mental health emergency.

The campaign is designed to arm people with tips and practical advice on what they can do if faced with situations such as someone having a panic attack or hearing voices.

Knowledge is power

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Most of us know some basic first aid, like how to put someone in the recovery position or how to stop a nose bleed. But a lot of people would be at a loss if faced with a mental health emergency, such as a friend feeling suicidal or hearing voices.

“Through this campaign, we want to teach people just a few basic steps to help them feel more confident in handling these kinds of situations. We don’t need everyone to become experts, but a little bit of knowledge can be very powerful, it could even potentially help save a life.”

The charity is offering people a free training pack, SOS Your starter guide to mental health, which outlines 6 mental health scenarios someone might be faced with and some basic steps they can take to help.

Alastair Campbell, who is backing the campaign, said: “Having a psychotic episode is pretty terrifying, as I know from personal experience. I was lucky, in that two police officers who saw that I was disturbed handled the situation well, and made me realise it was in my own interests to go with them. It was the police who insisted I get proper medical help. Plenty of other people had walked by before that though, and I could sense that they just didn't know how to handle the fact I was behaving oddly in a public place.

“Rethink Mental Illness campaigns for genuine parity between physical and mental health, and that goes for something like first aid too. It’s so important that people know how to handle difficult situations when people are displaying symptoms of mental illness and distress. 

“My advice to families and friends of someone with a mental illness is to be there for them when it starts. Be there for them when it is over. Don’t make them do things they don’t want to in between. Don’t tell them to pull themselves together. Do suggest they get proper professional help.”

You can download the SOS Your starter guide to mental health at