How the public sees mental illness

A new poll from The NHS Information Centre (NHS IC) has discovered that more of the public believe mental health problems are an "illness" when compared to the last time the study was conducted.

Findings from Attitudes to Mental Illness 2011 suggest that people are now taking a more positive view of mental health issues.

Some 70 per cent claimed they would be comfortable talking to their friends and family about mental health - which is up on the 66 per cent when the poll was carried out in 2009.

But it was not all positive, with only one out of every four saying they would trust a woman who had ever been in a mental hospital to babysit a child.

The NHS IC chief executive Tim Straughan said: "This report paints a mixed picture of attitudes towards people with mental health issues, which may be of particular interest given the number of high-profile awareness campaigns and celebrity stories about this subject."

Dr Dave Harper, Chartered Psychologist, commented: "The Health and Social Care Information Centre's annual survey of adults' 'attitudes to mental illness' provides a helpful snapshot of trends over time.

"As with its publication every year it reveals a mixed picture with some attitudes appearing to improve whilst others have worsened. Attitudes on some issues appear to be plateauing but at a lower rate than the first survey in 1994. For example, whilst 86 per cent of people agree that 'we need to adopt a far more tolerant attitude toward people with mental illness in our society', this represents a drop from the 92 per cent who agreed with this in 1994.

"Similarly, 34 per cent of people agree that mental hospitals are an outdated means of treating people with mental illness but this is lower than the 41 per cent who agreed with this in 1994. Some have suggested that the long drawn-out debates on the Mental Health Act and concomitant media discussions about risk actually reinforced more negative attitudes in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"Although one needs to be cautious in interpreting changes from one year to the next, some attitudinal change may be related to the recession: compared with 2010 there was a 3 per cent drop in the number of participants agreeing that those with mental health problems had the same right to a job as others and 5 per cent fewer people disagreed with the statement that 'increased spending on mental health services is a waste of money'. There is a need for leadership here from government to prevent a further worsening of attitudes, lest this lead to further discrimination in the future." 

New guidelines by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence are set to benefit millions of people with mental health problems, it was recently claimed.