New survey reveals attitudes to mental health problems


A local specialist NHS mental health trust has welcomed new survey results published today, that show the public is broadly sympathetic towards people with mental health problems.

South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, which provides specialist mental health and learning disability services to people in Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield, says the results are encouraging. However, the Trust says there are some results that give cause for concern and show that the stigma that surrounds mental ill health still needs challenging.

The latest figures that show public attitudes towards mental illness have been released today by the Department of Health. The surveys serve as a benchmark, enabling measurement of whether attitudes are improving or worsening over time.

The survey showed that the vast majority of the public are sympathetic to people with mental illness, although just 16% of respondents correctly stated that the proportion of people who would have a mental health problem at some point in their lives is 1 in 4.

Results that were encouraging include: • 78% agreed that ‘Mental illness is an illness like any other’. • The percentage agreeing with the statement ‘I would not want to live next door to someone who has been mentally ill’ decreased from 11% to 9%. • 84% agreed that no-one has the right to exclude people with mental illness from their neighbourhood – an increase from 79%. • Acceptance of people with mental illness taking public office and being given responsibility has grown since 1994 – the proportion agreeing that ‘Anyone with a history of mental health problems should be excluded from taking public office’ decreased from 29% in 1994 to 20% in 2010, while agreement that ‘People with mental illness should not be given any responsibility’ fell from 17% to 12% over the same period.

However, despite a third of respondents saying they currently or ever had a close friend with a mental health problem, some attitudes highlighted in the survey show that stigma, or the fear of stigma, is still having an influence: • Only 39% would feel comfortable talking to an employer about their mental health • 20% thought that as soon as a person shows signs of mental disturbance, they should be hospitalized • 25% did not agree that people with mental health problems should have the same rights to a job as anyone else. • 19% of those surveyed agreed that there is something about people with mental illness that makes it easy to tell them from normal people

The Trust’s chief executive Steven Michael said, “Often, people with mental health problems will tell us that the stigma that surrounds them can be as bad as, or worse, than the problems themselves. 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems in the course of a year and it can affect any one of us. Mental health is just like physical health – but, worryingly, 15% of those surveyed thought that one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and will-power. This simply isn’t the case.

"No-one should be made to feel ashamed to seek help if they need it – and the attitude of friends, family, neighbours or colleagues can really make a difference. We are pleased to see that attitudes are changing but there is still a long way to go. What is very encouraging is that local people are obviously interested in increasing understanding as over 14,000 have joined us as members of our foundation trust. But stigma continues to be very damaging, it makes it harder for people to admit they have a problem and get the support they need. It can also mean people with mental health problems are treated with unwarranted fear and distrust.”

78% of those surveyed agreed that ‘People with mental illness have for too long been the subject of ridicule’ – which supports South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust’s anti-stigma poster campaign, launched for 2010. The poster designs range from a scrabble board showing words like ‘bonkers’, ‘loony’ ‘schizo’ ‘nutter’ and ‘psycho’ to a poster that lists famous names who have been affected by mental health issues and still achieved success – including the likes of Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Local communities are encouraged to display posters in shops, schools, places of worship, community settings or anywhere else they feel is appropriate. Posters can be obtained, free of charge, by calling 01924 327567 or emailing

New survey reveals attitudes to mental health problems

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