Mental health is strongest taboo, says research
This article is more than 11 years old
Coming out as being gay is easier than admitting to a mental health condition, study shows
Fri 20 Feb 2009 06.17 EST
People are more reluctant to reveal they have a mental illness than to come out as gay, according to a new study that reaffirms warnings from campaigners that mental illness still faces a persistent social taboo.
In a survey of 2,000 people across Britain, almost 30% said they would find it difficult to admit publicly to having a mental illness, compared with 20% who said they would have difficulty coming out as gay.
Commissioned by the Time to Change campaign, an umbrella group of charities and the Institute of Psychiatry with a remit to challenge stigma, the survey also found that admitting to a mental health condition was deemed harder than confessing to having a drink problem or going bankrupt.
Almost a third of respondents believed someone with a mental health problem couldn’t do a responsible job.
“Perhaps it’s no surprise that a separate study found fewer than four in 10 employers would feel able to employ someone with a mental health problem,” the study’s authors say.
“The figures paint a bleak picture that reflects a Britain where mental health problems can stop you getting a job, having social interaction and getting on with life because they are so stigmatised.”
The study suggests that the impact of stigma extends well beyond the boardroom and shop floor. People are four times more likely to break off a romantic relationship if their partner is diagnosed with severe depression than if they develop a physical disability.
Those with schizophrenia are particularly likely to face problems: 20% of women said they would break up with a partner who was diagnosed with the condition.
Tom Bayliss, who has had depression and is an advocate for the Time to Change campaign, says the public needs to be made aware of the extent of discrimination against people with mental health problems.
“I’m Asian, I’m gay, and I have faced discrimination – but not for the reasons most people think,” he says. "It was actually when I got depression that I faced most discrimination.
“I think it’s fantastic we have come so far as a society – in many ways, become less discriminatory – but we have a long way to go on mental health. For me, it’s been the biggest taboo.”
The Time to Change campaign, launched last year with £16m from the Big Lottery Fund and £2m from Comic Relief, aims to reduce by 5% the discrimination directed towards people with mental health problems by 2012.