Understanding what works to keep us mentally healthy and support those experiencing mental health problems is fundamental to reducing health inequalities.
We've been working with the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) to understand more about public attitudes to mental wellbeing and mental illness and commissioned a series of questions on attitudes to mental health as part of the latest British Social Attitudes survey. I wanted to go through some of the findings in this blog.
Two distinct pictures of public attitude emerged from the findings. On one hand people are being positive and aware about mental wellbeing, but on the other, we are still seeing negative attitudes towards mental health problems, despite widespread prevalence.
It's reassuring that most people report confidence in knowing what it means to have good mental wellbeing, what the different factors are that impact on it and the things they can do to improve it.
The two aspects that have the biggest impact are relationships with family and friends and job or work-life balance.
It's interesting that the report found no differences in what people do to improve their mental wellbeing, based on deprivation or experience of mental illness – we all value the mental health benefits of spending time with others and being physically active.
The findings support the Five Ways to Wellbeing messages; Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give.
In addition, sleep, eating healthily and setting goals were also important, which PHE has incorporated into our One You campaign. We also all have our own unique steps for healthy living and it’s important to work with what's best for us individually.
However, there are inequalities when it comes to having the opportunity and ability to improve our mental wellbeing.
The report found that those living in deprived areas or with personal experience of mental health problems feel that the things affecting their mental wellbeing are outside of their control.
Important factors include finances, their home, how much say people have in decisions that affect them and the neighbourhood they live in, as well as job and work-life balance.
Action to address these social determinants needs to sit alongside efforts to support health behaviour change.
Stigma associated with mental health problems
One of the main problems faced by people with mental health problems is discrimination. The report demonstrates the varying levels of acceptance of those with mental health problems and that widespread perceptions of prejudice still exist.
For example, only around 5 in 10 people say they would be willing to socialise with someone with schizophrenia.
Those who know someone who has experienced a mental health problem are less likely to be prejudiced
It is good to see that perceptions of workplace prejudice have improved over time; however it is still evident that stigma remains and is greater for mental health problems compared to physical health conditions.
Those who know someone who has experienced a mental health problem are less likely to be prejudiced and creating environments that support people to be open about their mental health problems can help raise awareness among the wider population and reduce prejudice.
I hope we can achieve this within PHE and support other workplaces to do so.
Understanding what people say is important to their health and is key to delivering public health. Using national surveys such as this and also continued engagement of the public within our work will help shape meaningful and effective policy and practice.
This report will help shape our work to prevent mental illness and implement the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health.