Significant improvement in public attitudes and behaviours – latest research shows

Graphic - together we've changed millions of attitudes

Latest results from the National Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey, released today by mental health campaign Time to Change, shows people’s willingness to work, live and continue a relationship with someone with a mental health problem have improved by 11% since 2009.

This has now improved at a higher rate than public attitudes which have improved by 9.6% in the same time period – that’s an estimated 4.1m people with improved attitudes towards people with mental health problems in England since Time to Change started in 2007.

The survey, carried out in December 2016 with analysis by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, reveals that since 2009 there has been:

  • 15% increase in willingness to live with someone with a mental health problem (up to 72%)
  • 11% increase in willingness to work with someone with a mental health problem (up to 80%).
  • 10% increase in willingness to live nearby to someone with a mental health problem (up to 82%)
  • 6% increase in willingness to continue a relationship with a friend who had a mental health problem (up to 89%).

Alan Phillips, a Time to Change champion, has first-hand experience of improving attitudes in the workplace. He said: “Back when I joined the police force I’d never have dreamed of talking openly about my mental health. The best football team ever? We could talk about that for days, but speaking about mental health was out of bounds for fear of being labelled someone who had ‘gone crazy’. 

“Fast forward to now and I’ve shared my experiences with all my colleagues as part of my Time to Change work and not only that but it resonated. I was overwhelmed by the response, people were so positive and offered support but it also meant that if I had a bad day people understood. In turn, colleagues have opened up to me about their own mental health and there’s generally a more supportive environment.”

Knowing someone with a mental health problem leads to better attitudes

The survey also indicates that people who personally know someone with a mental health problem are more likely to have positive attitudes, and being aware of the Time to Change campaign also led to higher scores on the attitude scale. More than half of respondents now say they know someone with a mental health problem. This underlines the importance of Time to Change’s social contact programme which brings together people with experience of mental health problems like Alan to talk to people who don’t. 

But we know there’s still more work to be done. For example, while overall attitudes are improving, there is a persistent gap between the attitudes of men and women, with men consistently showing less favourable attitudes. That’s why in February Time to Change launched a major five year campaign – ‘In Your Corner’ – to encourage men to be more open and supportive.  

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change, which is run by charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, said: “The latest research findings demonstrate that as a society we’re moving in the right direction when it comes to how we think and act towards those of us with experiences of mental health problems. 

“The driving force behind this has been the growing social movement of thousands of people and organisations who are working hard to tackle stigma by giving mental health a higher profile and challenging outdated stereotypes. People openly sharing their mental health experiences, from all walks of life, is key to this change. But we must not become complacent about the issue. We won’t stop until the shame and fear that has for too long been associated with mental health becomes a thing of the past.”

Brian Dow, Director of External Affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Campaigns such as Time to Change have undoubtedly helped to position mental health squarely in the public eye. But behind the spotlight, what’s really exciting to see from the research, is that the campaign is actually improving how we all think about and act towards mental illness. 

“But we’re not out of the woods yet. Too often, feelings of shame and isolation mean that people affected by mental illness are going without help and support, or in the worst case, face discrimination. Positive improvements in people’s attitudes to mental health are something to celebrate, but we all still have a role to play to ensure we knock stigma on the head once and for all.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “It’s really positive to see such a significant improvement in attitudes towards those of us experiencing mental health problems. The decrease in stigma is thanks in large part to raising awareness through movements like Time to Change. But too often, we still hear from people who’ve faced stigma and discrimination across all areas of their lives – in the workplace, from family and friends, and from the health service. We’ve made some great progress over the last few years, but we can’t afford to lose momentum now.”

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