Public Attitudes Towards Mental Illness Remain Broadly Sympathetic

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Public attitudes towards people with mental health problems remain broadly sympathetic despite some signs that prejudice and fear have slightly increased.

The general public in England is still relatively understanding about mental illness:

- Nearly 9 out of 10 think those with mental health problems deserve our sympathy

- More than 4 out of 5 think society needs to be more tolerant towards mentally-ill people

- 9 out of 10 believe society has a responsibility to provide the best possible care

- Nearly 4 out of 5 disagree with the idea that people with mental health problems are a burden on society

The vast majority of people remain supportive of the integration of those with mental illness into the community. Around 3 in 4 responded positively that no-one has the right to exclude people with mental illness from their neighbourhood, that the best therapy is being part of the community and that mental health services should be largely community-based.

However, compared to when the poll was carried out in 1994, some of these attitudes are slightly less sympathetic. For example 8% less favour a more tolerant attitude and 5% less think people with mental health problems are deserving of sympathy.

Some perceptions of the dangers posed by psychiatric patients have also worsened. This year 34% described people with mental health problems as prone to violence, an increase of 5% from 2003 (when the question was first posed).

One positive trend was signs of greater openness about mental health, with 47% - an increase of 8% - saying they knew someone with a mental health problem. More than one in 10 people questioned admitted to seeing their GP in the last 12 months because they were "anxious or depressed".

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Another positive trend is that less people think those with a history of mental health problems should be denied responsibilities, with only 1 in 5, a drop of 8%, thinking they should be excluded from public office.

The public continues to hugely underestimate how common mental health problems are, with only 15% correctly estimating that one in four will be affected over their lifetime - 25% thought it was just one in ten1.

Health Minister Ivan Lewis said: "Although, reassuringly, many people still hold balanced, reasonable views about mental illness, the attitudes of a significant minority reflect prejudices that should be as unacceptable as racism in a modern, civilised society.

"The irony is that most of us - or someone we care for - are bound to be affected by these problems at one time or another. Nevertheless, mental illness remains frequently misunderstood and people don't realise how commonplace it really is.

"Fear of mental illness can prevent some people from seeking the help they need and it can make recovering and getting back on your feet more difficult. As a Government, we are committed to providing the support people need to recover safely in the community. As a society, we need to break down the barriers, like prejudice, that can make this difficult."

Shift, a Department of Health-funded campaign, is working to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness by encouraging the media to improve its coverage of mental health issues and helping employers to recruit and retain people with mental health problems.

Shift is part of a comprehensive ten-year mental health strategy to:

- Improve the quality of care

- Provide quicker access to appropriate services nearer people's homes

- Increase choice in where and how patients access services

- Provide the long-term support that some need to become independent after treatment

- Reduce the risk that a small number of patients pose to themselves and others

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