Widespread discrimination remains for people with severe mental illness

Updated: Aug 23


Discrimination against severe mental illness

Discrimination remains a major barrier for people with severe mental health issues, new findings reveal.


The survey, by mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, shows that 88% of people affected by psychological conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder agree that discrimination is a widespread issue for people in their position.


Of the 500 people surveyed, 3 in 4 people with severe mental illness (74%) also feel that stigmas about their conditions have not improved over the past 10 years, despite many (67%) thinking it has improved for more common health problems.


For almost 9 in 10 (86%) respondents, discrimination against their condition has stopped them doing what they want to do, including seeking help for their condition (61%), talking to friends and family about it (69%), or applying for a job or promotion (61%).


“I’ve experienced stigma and discrimination many times in my life, and I’m only 23,: said Antonio, a respondent who lives with schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder. "People are so quick to judge me based on a diagnosis, who I am as a person, and what I can achieve."


In the UK, around 1 in 100 people will experience the symptoms of schizophrenia at some point in their life, while mortality rates related to the condition are particularly concerning – around 5 to 10% of people living with schizophrenia die by their own hand within 10 years of diagnosis.


Borderline personality disorder – a condition characterised by varying moods, and self-image and behavioural issues that often result in impulsive actions and relationship problems – is estimated to affect around 1 in 100 people in the UK and can have a significant impact on daily life.


"It’s been exhausting, confusing and distressing trying to deal with people’s perceptions of me and it makes life harder. But if we pretend it doesn’t exist, things will never get better. That’s why it’s so important that we challenge stigma and discrimination wherever we find it," added Antonio.


Read more: People with severe mental illness and unpaid carers urged to book vaccination as slots dwindle

People severely affected by mental illness have been a demographic of particular concern during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Research shows that people with severe mental illness are more likely to contract the virus due to socioeconomic and living conditions, while their likelihood of recovering from infection is also affected by higher rates of life-threatening conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


In response to its findings, Rethink Mental Illness is calling on the government to re-focus efforts on reducing stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, particularly with regards to people from minority ethnic backgrounds or people with more severe and complex mental health issues.


“We still have a long way to go in our efforts to reduce stigma and discrimination experienced by people severely affected by mental illness," says Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness. "The damaging words and behaviour that people face can have a devastating impact on their lives. We must all commit to calling out stigma and discrimination when we see it.


“While it is positive to see improved perceptions of more common health conditions, we must ensure no one is left out in the national conversation about mental health.”


Rethink Mental Illness is focusing on mental illness stigma and discrimination as part of Mental Health Awareness Week.


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health