Mental health network

People with mental health problems still face stigma

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British Attitudes Survey, 4 August 2016
NatCentre Social Research that works for society

Nine in ten people say they are confident they know what it means to have good mental wellbeing according to a new report from NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey.

The report, commissioned by Public Health England, found that the public are aware of different factors that impact on their own mental wellbeing and of the things they can do to improve it. Seven in ten (72 per cent) reported that they know what to do to improve their mental wellbeing.

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

The BSA survey both highlights the progress being made in attitudes towards wellbeing, and the engrained prejudices which still pervade society.


In 2015 Public Health England (PHE) commissioned sets of questions on NatCen’s British Social Attitudes survey (BSA) to measure public attitudes to four subject areas - alcohol, obesity, dementia and mental wellbeing. The survey presents analysis of the results of the questions about mental health problems and mental wellbeing. It covers two main themes - knowledge and awareness about mental wellbeing and stigma associated with mental health problems.

Policy context

The Mental Health Taskforce, report published earlier this year calls for an integrated physical and mental health approach, promoting good mental health and preventing poor mental health, and sees ending stigma as 'vital'.

The report tasks The Department of Health to work with PHE to continue to support proven behaviour change interventions, such as Time to Change, and to establish Mental Health Champions in each community, to contribute to improving attitudes to mental health by at least a further 5 per cent by 2020/21.

Key findings

As much as awareness of mental wellbeing has grown people, the recent BSA survey confirms that people with mental health problems continue to be exposed to inequality and stigma.

Stigma in everyday life

Levels of acceptance are higher for a person with depression than for someone with schizophrenia. For example, 71 per cent say they would be willing to move next door to someone with depression, while 45 per cent say the same about someone with schizophrenia.

This stigma is particularly marked in more personal settings, with only 36 per cent of people content to have someone with depression marry into the family and less than 2 in 10 willing to let someone with depression provide childcare for the family.

Stigma in the work place

The disproportionate effect of mental health problems on our life chances is found in respondents' attitudes towards people with mental health problems in the workplace. Only 8 per cent of respondents thought a person with symptoms of schizophrenia would be as likely to achieve a promotion as someone without (in comparison to 56 per cent of respondents for diabetes). Moreover, 35 per cent of people believed someone with depression would be much less likely to receive a promotion. Most illuminating of all, when respondents were asked whether an illness like schizophrenia should make a difference to whether a person was promoted, 46 per cent said that it should.


The BSA 2015 findings reveal two fairly distinct pictures of public attitudes to mental health. On the one hand, the majority have high levels of awareness of ‘mental wellbeing’ as a concept, and most have positive attitudes towards improving their own mental wellbeing. A majority feel they have control over factors that impact on their mental wellbeing and people report a range of different steps they can take which help to improve it

On the other hand, in spite of the relatively high prevalence of mental health problems in the population as a whole, there is evidence of fairly widespread negative attitudes towards people with mental health problems. Specifically, there is lower acceptance of a person with schizophrenia compared with a person with depression; while people are not very willing to interact with people with either condition in more personal settings. In a workplace context, only small minorities think that depression or schizophrenia would not be detrimental to an employee’s promotion prospects (whereas more than half say the same about diabetes).

In future years, the survey hopes to revisit whether increasing knowledge and awareness among the wider population could help tackle prejudice. It is a complex area and there is much more work to be done to support people with mental health problems have a fairer chance in life.

Read the full report.

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