Stigma, inequality and mental health: the British Social Attitudes survey

26 August 2016
By Alethea Cope

Mid-August saw the release of the British Social Attitudes survey’s findings on attitudes towards mental health.

It found that awareness of mental health and wellbeing appears to have grown, but only 36% of respondents said they would be willing for someone showing symptoms of depression to marry into their family, a figure which drops to only 27% for someone experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia.

These worrying figures suggest that we still have some way to go before we can consider the stigma around mental health to be a thing of the past. Clearly, work to combat myths and misunderstandings needs continued commitment.

The survey’s findings highlighted a range of other significant trends and some major inequalities. For instance, among respondents from the most deprived areas of the UK, 28% reported having (or someone close to them having) a diagnosed mental health problem, a figure that dropped to 21% for respondents in the least deprived areas. This confirms what has been highlighted previously (most recently in our analysis on the Millennium Cohort Study), that mental health problems disproportionately affect those who face more deprivation.

This may not be ‘new’ information. However, it is key to developing a holistic approach to mental wellbeing, which fully addresses a person’s multiple needs. Addressing mental health in isolation from other needs is short-sighted and counterproductive. Respondents in areas of higher deprivation, for example, more commonly reported that the things affecting their mental wellbeing were outside of their control.

These findings serve as yet another reminder that until basic needs such as secure housing and financial wellbeing are addressed, therapeutic or medical treatment is likely to be of limited benefit. This is recognised through projects such as our IPS employment work, where employment specialists are situated within a clinical team.

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% of respondents thought a person with symptoms of schizophrenia would be as likely to achieve a promotion as someone without (in comparison to 56% of respondents for diabetes). Moreover, 35% 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% said that it should.

These findings may not be wholly surprising, but they yet again expose the inequality and stigma facing people with mental health problems. We have a long way to go to make the UK a place which is wholly accepting and inclusive for those living with mental health problems. Indeed, these findings corroborate a recent study which showed that the pay gap for people with mental health problems is a shocking 42%. This again emphasises an urgent need for support for people with mental health problems both in securing fulfilling work and in building a career without being unfairly held back.

The BSA survey both highlights the progress being made in attitudes towards wellbeing, and the deep-seated prejudices which still pervade society. It is my hope that as the Centre seeks more solutions to deep-seated problems, public understanding will develop and more people will have a fairer chance in life.

Read the British Social Attitudes survey findings on attitudes towards mental health here

Tag: Stigma

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