In any year, at least one in four of the population experiences a mental health problem, yet fewer than four in ten employers would consider taking on someone who has a history of mental illness, and one in three people seeking help for a mental illness are turned away. Every ninety-four minutes someone in the UK takes their own life, meaning that one percent of all deaths in this country are through suicide. Depression is responsible for three-quarters of all suicides and thirty-one million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued in the UK last year.
Citizens of English-speaking nations are more than twice as likely to experience a mental illness as are those from mainland Western Europe. In 2007, 25% of English speakers: Americans, British, Australians, New Zealanders and Canadians, experienced a mental illness compared with 11.5% of Germans, Italians, French, Belgians, Spaniards and Dutch. Developing nations like Nigeria and China have a profoundly lower prevalence of mental illness. Studies show that the incidence of mental illness in the UK doubled between 1980 and 2000. The country with the highest rate of mental illness in the world is the United States with 26.4% in 2007. (These figures are all from the World Health Organisation).
According to the Department of Health, studies show that people with mental health problems die on average 25 years earlier than others. People with mental health problems tend to have fewer qualifications, find it harder to get work, have lower incomes, may well be homeless and are more likely to live in areas of socio-economic deprivation.
The Annual Department of Health Survey Attitudes to Mental Illness, published May 2008, revealed some shocking figures. One in eight people said they would not want to live next door to a person with a mental health problem. A third of the people questioned thought that people with mental health problems should not have the same right to a job as others. Nearly six out of ten people believed a person with a mental health problem should be kept in a mental hospital.
21% believed ‘anyone with a history of mental illness should be excluded from public office’ and one in five thought that ‘locating mental health facilities in a residential area downgrades the neighbourhood’. 7% agreed that ‘people with mental illness are a burden on society’, while 14% thought that one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower. 12% believed that ‘a woman would be stupid to marry a man who had ever experienced a mental health problem’.
These shocking statistics reveal the extent of the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illness. This was reinforced when the 2008 report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Mental Health revealed that one in five MPs surveyed had experienced mental health problems, but feared disclosing this because of the negative impact it could have.
Mental health problems and high levels of suicide are classified, along with diabetes and obesity, as ‘diseases of affluence’ (The Lancet, vol. 374:72).
According to the World Health Organisation, mental illness, including depression and substance abuse, are associated with more than 90% of suicides. In the UK, out of 100,000 people, seventeen men and five women take their own lives. These figures highlight the close relationship between low self-esteem and mental illness.
This is why SWOP firmly believes that having meaning and purpose can help change lives.