Stigma and Discrimination

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People with mental health problems say that the social stigma attached to mental ill health and the discrimination they experience can make their difficulties worse and make it harder to recover.

Mental illness is common. It affects thousands of people in the UK, and their friends, families, work colleagues and society in general.

  • One in four people will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives.
  • Around one in ten children experience mental health problems. 
  • Depression affects around one in 12 of the whole population.
  • Rates of self-harm in the UK are the highest in Europe at 400 per 100,000.
  • 450 million people world-wide have a mental health problem.
Most people who experience mental health problems recover fully, or are able to live with and manage them, especially if they get help early on.

But even though so many people are affected, there is a strong social stigma attached to mental ill health, and people with mental health problems can experience discrimination in all aspects of their lives.

Many people’s problems are made worse by the stigma and discrimination they experience – from society, but also from families, friends and employers.

Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.

We know that people with mental health problems are amongst the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to:

  • find work
  • be in a steady, long-term relationship
  • live in decent housing 
  • be socially included in mainstream society.

This is because society in general has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people. Many people believe that people with mental ill health are violent and dangerous, when in fact they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people.

Stigma and discrimination can also worsen someone’s mental health problems, and delay or impede their getting help and treatment, and their recovery. Social isolation, poor housing, unemployment and poverty are all linked to mental ill health. So stigma and discrimination can trap people in a cycle of illness.

The situation is exacerbated by the media. Media reports often link mental illness with violence, or portray people with mental health problems as dangerous, criminal, evil, or very disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives.

This is far from the case.

Research shows that the best way to challenge these stereotypes is through firsthand contact with people with experience of mental health problems. A number of national and local campaigns are trying to change public attitudes to mental illness. These include the national voluntary sector campaign Time to Change.

The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate directly or indirectly against people with mental health problems in public services and functions, access to premises, work, education, associations and transport.

 


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