Changing Attitudes to Mental Health

Stigma and discrimination have a devastating impact on individuals experiencing mental distress, the communities people live in and the wider society shaped by communities. 

Recent work has highlighted that stigma and discrimination has prevented people from getting help, delayed effective treatment, impaired recovery, promoted unemployment and isolated and excluded people.  In response national and local campaigning spearheaded by Time to Change has sought to end discrimination faced by people who experience mental health distress.

(Time to Change is England's most ambitious programme to end discrimination faced by people who experience mental health problems.  The Time to Change Mission is to inspire people to work together to end the discrimination surrounding mental health.  The programme of 35 projects is led by Mind, and Rethink (Mental Health Media have now merged to become part of Mind). It is funded with £16m from the Big Lottery Fund and £4m from Comic Relief, and evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London).

Societal wide attitudinal change takes time, but there is early evidence that a real change to public attitudes on mental health may be taking place. (New evaluation findings from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, in July 2010, reveals that Time to Change, is having a positive effect on reducing discrimination towards people with mental health problems.

As attitudes change people will begin to seek help earlier in the onset of mental health distress. Opportunities for employment for those living with mental distress will increase and friendship and social cohesion are likely to be strengthened.  Friends and family members of people experiencing mental distress may be empowered to publicly recognise the difficulties loved one face.  Ultimately, people who suffer from mental distress will be able to live complete and satisfying lives.

What are the implications?

  • VCS organisations known to provide help to people suffering from mental health difficulties may see a marked increase in self and third party referrals. There may be a particular impact in terms of self referral to services.
  • People may seek earlier intervention and therefore present to services with less complex needs.
  • There may be a greater call on known services from people who have not been assessed previously as having a mental health need.  VCS groups may need to seek additional funding from, for instance, public health promotion budgets to manage this potential demand.
  • Over time, health, social and financial inequalities may be reduced. 
  • Mental health difficulties faced by people previously denied access to housing, financial services and employment may improve.
  • In time, there may be a reduction in the need for the traditional role of many VCS mental health organisations promoting social interaction and sense of self worth.
  • Demand from commissioners for projects that develop self esteem and social interaction, as their primary funded objective, may be reduced.
  • Measures to reduce stigma and change attitudes to mental health may self perpetuate as people feel more confident talking about mental health publicly.
  • In the longer term, second generation mental health difficulties may reduce.  People might get the support and recognition they need to promote their own mental health from informal networks and without the need for traditionally provided VCS provider services.
  • Social and economic capital of society should be enhanced. 
  • In the long term, VCS organisations that enable people who suffer from mental distress to live complete and satisfying lives may no longer be needed.

Moving forward

  • How much does your organisation know about the impact of changing attitudes to mental health?  Could you establish an internal group that helps your customer facing functions respond to new customers, with newer (perhaps formally undiagnosed formally) need?
  • Are you having conversations with people who support your work about new ‘customers’ and their likely needs?
  • Do you need to think about service and access re-design to consider services for people in full time employment or those who wish to access services remotely?
  • Do you need to conduct an internal stigma audit?  New customers may take offense at traditional mental health approaches and language.
  • As demand for traditional services diminishes, organisational mission and vision may need re-alignment and new focus.  How can you steer your organisation through these complex changes and the likely reduction in building based service provision (an end to traditional service provision is likely to perpetuate)?
  • In the longer term, how will your organisation look when people get all the support and recognition they need to promote their own mental health through informal networks?
Last updated at 14:27 Fri 07/Jan/11.

Recent comments

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

This is really interesting William, with lots to think about. Your comment about whether organisations might need to think about having an 'internal stigma audit' made me think of Jeff Walker's presentation at our Future of Wellbeing event back in February. If you have a look at his presentation, on pgs 7 and 8, he talks about the changes some local MINDS have made to address the traditional presentation of 'mental health help centres'. They've made their locations warmer and more of a social and communal centre than anywhere clinical, which has been a great success.

This might not be the place to ask this question, but I'll try anyway! I'm not a mental health expert, but I was looking at a online tool called Mood Gym (an Australian website) and through it the user works through the warped thoughts that cause anxiety, depression and anger. This morning it occured to me that many of the warped thoughts highlighted through the exercise are, in some way, reflected by the media. For example one is black and white thinking, another is generalising that everything is bad if one bad thing has happened. Does anyone know whether there is any research into how 'anxious' media reporting affects individuals? Intuitively I would guess that there is a high correlation between how happy someone feels and the negative messages spewed out by the media.

There's a tenous link to the article subject because as we become more aware of our general mental health, then one of the actions could be an experiment to see how positive press can have a positive impact on people's mental health.

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