Posted on 07/10/2019

Mental health conditions: a history of improving attitudes

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Mental health conditions: a history of improving attitudes

This World Mental Health Day we are looking into how and why our attitudes towards mental health conditions have changed for the better.

World Mental Health Day provides an ideal opportunity for us to help raise awareness, and get people talking, about mental health. Too often people living with a mental health condition face social stigma which can make it more difficult to open up about the challenges they experience. World Mental Health Day was established to help to tackle the social stigmas surrounding mental health, enabling people and charities to come together each year to campaign for better support, treatment and understanding for those who are living with a mental health condition.

What is a mental health condition?

When we talk about mental health we are actually talking about a whole range of conditions that can affect our mental wellbeing. Whilst depression is the most predominant mental health condition worldwide, conditions such as anxiety, schizophrenia, OCD and eating disorders also fall under the mental health umbrella.

Depression – depression is the most common mental health condition in the world and is identified by persistent low mood that causes a lack of interest and pleasure in areas of life that you would typically enjoy

Anxiety – anxiety is the name for feelings of worry and fear that everyone will experience at some point in their life. Feeling anxious about big life events, such as taking exams, getting married or moving house is perfectly normal and does not mean you have a mental health condition. However, if you experience feelings of anxiety over an extended period of time, at irregular intervals or during day-to-day activities, it’s a good idea to ask for some additional support

Schizophrenia – schizophrenia is a mental health condition that often causes hallucinations and delusions which creates confusion between someone’s own thoughts and reality

You can find a full list of different mental health conditions and find out more information about them on the NHS Inform website and Mind’s website.

It is important to remember that everyone living with a mental health condition will experience it differently and the information provided online is not a replacement for medical advice given by a professional.

Changing attitudes towards mental health: Time to Change survey

For many years the lack of knowledge about mental health led to fear of mental health conditions, causing extreme stigma and mistreatment of the people who experienced them. In today’s world we have far more understanding about many mental health conditions and how they can affect people in different ways which has, in turn, led to better care and support.

In 2016, the social movement called Time to Change carried out a survey with Kings College London to see how attitudes towards mental health had changed in England since 2009. The survey concentrated on asking people about their willingness to live, work, be a neighbour and be a friend to someone who is living with a mental health condition. Results from the survey showed a rise in willingness in all of these areas, highlighting that people are growing to be more understanding and accepting of those who live with a mental health condition. The exact survey results are listed below.

Since 2009 there has been a:

  • 15% increase in willingness to live with someone with a mental health condition (up to 72%)
  • 11% increase in willingness to work with someone with a mental health condition (up to 80%)
  • 10% increase in willingness to live near to someone with a mental health condition (up to 82%)
  • 6% increase in willingness to continue a relationship with a friend who has a mental health condition (up to 89%)


Overall, an estimated 4.1 million people have improved attitudes towards mental health since Time to Change began in 2007.

A history of change

Time to Change is just one of many brilliant campaigns that helps to raise awareness of and support people who are living with a mental health condition. There are also charities, including Mind, Heads Together and Samaritans who are helping to break the stigma surrounding mental health and offer vital support to those who need it.

We decided to delve further into our history in order to pinpoint some of the milestones in the journey of fighting mental health discrimination and the growth of incredible organisations and charities who have helped us to change the way we think, talk and act about mental health.

  • 1930 – the Mental Treatment Act was introduced to Britain
  • 1946 – mental health charity, Mind, was founded
  • 1948 – the NHS began
  • 1949 – the Mental Health Foundation was established
  • 1953 – Chad Varah began what is now known as the Samaritans helpline
  • 1975 – the National Schizophrenia Fellowship (now Rethink) was founded
  • 1983 – the Mental Health Act was introduced
  • 1986 – charity SANE was founded
  • 1989 – Eating Disorders Association (now BEAT) was established
  • 1992 – World Mental Health Day was first launched
  • 2003 – World Suicide Prevention day started
  • 2007 – Time to Change campaign was launched
  • 2017 – The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry launched the Heads Together campaign
  • 2017 – Young Minds launched the Wise Up campaign
  • 2018 – The LADbible Group introduced their UOKM8? campaign
  • 2019 – the FA and Heads Together launched their Heads-Up campaign
  • 2019 – Steuart Padwick launches his “Talk to Me” art installation for London Design Festival


Physical health conditions can usually be seen and understood by their physical symptoms, but mental health is defined by invisible signs that can often be misunderstood or ignored by people who haven’t experienced them. It has taken many years for mental health to be taken seriously but, as a society, we are finally beginning to realise the importance of understanding mental health and stamping out discrimination against people living with a mental health condition. Mental health awareness helps to get people talking and reduce the taboo surrounding mental health, so that more people feel comfortable to come forward and talk about how they feel.

Our attitudes towards mental health have improved drastically in the past century but we still have a way to go to ensure all colleagues, neighbours, family and friends who are living with a mental health condition get the support they need. Awareness of mental health is important, but it is the action that comes with it that proves to be vital.


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