One in four people in the UK suffer a mental health problem at some point in their lives, yet the fact that these numbers appear to increase on a yearly basis, it has long been known that a great deal of stigma is attached to mental health issues. However, according to a new survey conducted by the NHS Information Centre (NHS-IC) Britons are becoming increasingly open-minded towards mental ill-health.
According to the NHS-IC survey, 77% of the respondents, contrary to 71% in 1994, professed that ‘mental illness is an illness like any other’. Similarly, it was found that between 2009 and present date, the number of people willing to talk to their families about a mental health issue has risen from 66% to 70%. This is good news. However, the survey also reflects an inflexible attitude held by some that mental ill health is a result of lack of self-discipline and will power, and that fewer Britons are willing to speak to their boss about a mental health issue, than was found just a couple of years prior. So while on some dimensions the stigma surrounding mental ill health has improved, on others the picture is different.
While campaigns and education has not managed to eradicate all misconceptions and the shame that often follows it seems only reasonable to acknowledge that in some important aspects we are moving towards a greater deal of acceptance of mental illness as an illness in its’ own right. This openness will be crucial in encouraging treatment for the many thousand Britons who suffer an undiagnosed and untreated mental health issue alone.
Why the stigma?
It does strike as ironic that in a society where there are similar life time prevalence rates between cancer and mental ill health, cancer is a far more acceptable disease. Hardly anyone will infer of the cancer patient that lack of self-discipline or will-power has brought upon cancer. In a society where qualities such as self-determination and self-fulfilment are highly regarded, mental health issues are an obstacle to making one’s own luck and society’s definition of success. If it is believed that mental illness is somehow self-inflicted, one need not think hard to image the shame and guilt that often accompanies these common disorders.
It is our experience at Life Works that the quality of life of people that suffer with a mental health issue is greatly compromised. In instances where a mental health issue has been ignored the likelihood of the sufferer not seeking treatment until the issue has become life threatening or has lead to addiction is far greater. Seeking treatment is never too late, and the earlier you do so, greater your chances of obtaining mental health and greater quality of life.