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Family, friends and work key to mental wellbeing

Survey reveals most people know how to improve their mental state

Mark Gould

Thursday, 04 August 2016

The vast majority of people are confident they know what it means to have good mental wellbeing and feel that they know what to do to improve it, according to the latest report for the British Social Attitudes survey.

The report, produced by NatCen Social Research and commissioned by Public Health England (PHE), also found that the public are aware of different factors that impact on their own mental wellbeing and of the things they can do to improve it. The report found:

  • Nine in ten (91%) say they are confident they know what it means to have good mental wellbeing.
  • Seven in ten (72%) feel they know what to do to improve their mental wellbeing.
  • Spending time with friends and family, going for a walk or getting fresh air, and getting more sleep are widely regarded by people as activities which help them feel more positive.

The British Social Attitudes survey consisted of 4,328 interviews with a representative, random sample of adults in Britain with a response rate of 51%. Interviewing was carried out between 4th July and 2nd November last year. Some 2,140 respondents answered questions about mental health face-to-face and 1,812 filled in a further set of questions on a self-completion questionnaire.

The two factors that people believe have the biggest impact on their mental wellbeing are relationships with family and friends (mentioned by 54% as one of the top 3 factors) and their job or work-life balance (chosen by 42%).

Stigma is still something those with mental health problems have to face. Levels of acceptance are higher for a person with depression than for someone with schizophrenia. For example, 71% say they would be willing to move next door to someone with depression, while 45% say the same about someone with schizophrenia.

Perceptions of prejudice in the workplace are also apparent. Very few think that someone with depression (17%) or schizophrenia (8%) that is under control through medication would be just as likely as others to be promoted. And at least a third say that this person’s medical history should make a difference to their promotion prospects. However, people who have personal experience of mental health problems, or who know someone close to them who has had such problems, express lower levels of prejudice.

Professor Kevin Fenton, Director of Health and Wellbeing at PHE, said: “Knowing what the public think about mental health and mental illness helps us to develop a public health system that improves people’s mental health alongside their physical health. It is inextricably linked with how we think, feel, behave and relate.

“The findings support other research that relationships, job, work-life balance, finances and involvement in decision-making are important to our mental health and we encourage our local and national partners to address these issues in their strategies to improve the public’s mental health and wellbeing.

“The survey also shows that despite making good progress in recent years in addressing stigma and discrimination, there is still a long way to go in challenging attitudes and behaviours.”

Professor John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said: "We welcome the findings in this report that show the majority of people feel they know what good mental wellbeing is, and they know what to do to improve it. However, it is a cause for concern that a ‘them and us’ mentality is still prevalent regarding people with a diagnosis of mental illness and their suitability as neighbours or ability to care for children. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. While some of us need treatment and support at times, there is also much that can be done to prevent people developing mental health problems. That is why people need the right support at each stage of life, whether they are children, young people or the parents of young children."

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