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Posted on Oct 10 2023 by Fiona Bailey

New research, commissioned by St Andrew's Healthcare, has found that 78% of people do not agree that mental illness is a sign of weakness, smashing the ‘snowflake’ narrative that has blighted mental health conversations and reinforced stigma over recent years.

However, stigma around complex mental health problems, such as psychosis, remains rife, and 1 in 3 people admit to using words such as ‘psycho’ and ‘nutter’ in everyday conversation.

The nationwide survey, which more than 1,000 people took part in, was supported by the Time to Talk Day Legacy Fund. The poll was co-produced as patients, former service users and staff were asked about stigmatising language and which words and phrases related to mental health they found offensive. 

The questionnaire aligns with the first ambition within St Andrew's new strategy which is aiming to ensure everyone has an equal voice to drive change and reshape society's response to mental health. 

This new research has also found that men are significantly more likely to use mental health stigma than women, with men being twice as likely to consider mental illness a sign of weakness.

The findings showed that different types of mental health problems are subject to different levels of stigma, possibly due to a lack of understanding.

For example, it found that just 1 in 4 would stop and help somebody who was experiencing a psychotic episode, yet more than half (62%) would stop to help somebody experiencing a panic attack. Encouragingly, however, 67% feel schizophrenia and 64% feel psychosis should be discussed more often in society.

Consultant psychologist Inga Stewart at St Andrew's Healthcare said: “As a charity that looks after people with complex mental health problems, it is worrying to find that people who could be in a place in their lives were they are already vulnerable due to severe and enduring challenges such as symptoms of schizophrenia or other illnesses with psychotic features, are much more likely to experience stigma and far less likely to find support in the community.

“This can perpetuate feelings of isolation and could inhibit recovery. It is important to remember that some people have positive experiences of psychosis, but for others it can be very difficult or frightening. This is why we need to talk more – not less - about mental health problems such as these in the media and beyond, to help the general public see that those of us living with psychotic illnesses can be incredibly vulnerable and wholly deserving of help and support when needed.”

Steve Parker, who has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, has experienced self-harm and survived several suicide attempts, has personally been impacted by stigma. He now writes courses to help people understand the impact of stigmatising language on people living with mental health problems.

Steve said: “Stigma is complicated. When I was unwell, I was not really aware of stigma at the time, perhaps because I had led an invalidated life. But, I became more aware of stigma when reflecting on my first hospital admission. It was while I was waiting for a bed that I became aware of some remarkably ‘odd’ behaviours being demonstrated by those around me. I was scared that I was with a room full of ‘nutters’ and I was even more scared that I was one of them. During this period of reflection, I realised that I had been socialised like much of the population, and my fear was based on stigma and ignorance.

“I believe that if stigma was a disease, it could be treatable like many other illnesses. Not with a pharmacological approach, but with human contact and education.

“That is one of the reasons that I work in a Recovery College as I firmly believe culture change is an important part of my value set. As part of my role, I have an obligation to move the culture, of whatever organisation the college is associated with, forward as well as the stigma within the general population.

“Everything that is produced through our Recovery College is co-produced, which means we develop ‘wise expertise’ by valuing lived experience, alongside clinical experience on a basis of parity. We work tirelessly to raise expectation of what service users can achieve living alongside their mental health experiences. We are doing, in part, by challenging language and attitudes of patients and staff, helping to change culture, challenge stigma and generally make meaningful change to the lives of people living with enduring mental illness.”

 Other findings from the research included:

  • When asked what words they might use to describe someone with Schizophrenia, respondents spontaneously used words such as ‘unpredictable’, ‘confused’, ‘unstable’, ‘mental’ and ‘troubled’.
  • While 78% of respondents disagreed with the statement asking if mental illness is a sign of weakness, 22% agreed that people could snap out of a mental illness if they had a more positive attitude.
  • 42% would feel frightened if they required treatment in a psychiatric hospital. 21% would feel embarrassed about this too, but 3% or less would feel embarrassed if it were someone close to them.
  • 32% of respondents would feel uneasy around someone who has been in a psychiatric hospital – the same percentage who would feel uneasy around somebody who had been in prison for theft.

 To illustrate the impact of these findings and encourage a further change in attitude, St Andrew’s Healthcare has created a short film working with experts by experience (including some of their patients) and experts by profession talking about terms and phrases that we should try to stop saying and why.

To view the film click here.

Posted on Oct 10 2023 by Fiona Bailey

St Andrew's Complex Mental Health and Language Report Oct 2023

STAH Complex Mental Health and Language Report Oct 2023