SchizophreniaMental health stigma is still common in the UK, with fewer than 2 in 10 people saying they would be willing to let someone with depression provide childcare for the family, research has found.

A new report by NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey, commissioned by Public Health England (PHE), found that stigma is still something those with mental health problems have to face, but those with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia have to face more. For example, 71% say they would be willing to move next door to someone with depression, while 45% say the same about someone with schizophrenia.

This stigma is particularly marked in more personal settings, with only 36% of people content to have someone with depression marry into the family.

Perceptions of prejudice in the workplace are also apparent. Very few think that someone with depression (17%) or schizophrenia (8%) that is under control through medication would be just as likely as others to be promoted. And at least a third say that the person’s medical history should make a difference to their promotion prospects.

However, people who have personal experience of mental health problems, or who know someone close to them who has had such problems, express lower levels of prejudice.

More positively, 91% of people say they are confident they know what it means to have good mental wellbeing. 

Meanwhile, 72% of people feel they know what to do to improve their mental wellbeing. Spending time with friends and family, going for a walk or getting fresh air, and getting more sleep are widely regarded by people as activities which help them feel more positive.

The two factors that people believe have the biggest impact on their mental wellbeing are relationships with family and friends (mentioned by 54% as one of the top 3 factors) and their job or work-life balance (chosen by 42%).

Most people think the things that affect their mental wellbeing are in their control, but those living in deprived areas or those who have experienced a mental health problem are more likely than others to say these things are out of their control.

Miranda Phillips, research director at NatCen Social Research, said: “It is good news that so many people feel able to manage their own mental wellbeing. However, so long as the public continues to believe that mental health problems hold you back at work or in your personal life, people with these conditions may feel less able to get help.”

Professor Kevin Fenton, director of health and wellbeing at PHE, added: “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 findings support other research that relationships, job, work-life balance, finances and involvement in decision-making are important to our mental health and we encourage our local and national partners to address these issues in their strategies to improve the public’s mental health and wellbeing.

“The survey also 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 mental health anti-stigma campaign Time to Change, 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. It also provides more evidence that men’s attitudes lag behind women’s, and this gender gap will be a priority for our future campaigns.

“However, this latest data confirms that things are changing for the better. Our own recent research shows that 3.4 million English adults have improved attitudes since 2008, and people with mental health problems are facing less discrimination. But there is still a long way to go before no one has to face discrimination on the grounds of mental illness.”