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Global mental health discrimination rife says new research

21 January 2009

New research from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London published today (Wednesday 21 January 2009) highlights the worrying global pattern of discrimination against people with schizophrenia.  Among over 700 people interviews, from 27 countries worldwide, over 95% report that they have experienced negative discrimination.  This research is published on line today by the Lancet.

The experiences of discrimination are remarkably consistent across countries in areas of life such as making or keeping friends, finding a job, and maintaining personal relationships.  Researchers have also found that, even in the absence of experienced discrimination, such people actively anticipate that they will discriminated against in whatever they do, such as looking for a job. In this case it is common that people in this position do not even apply for a job as they expected to be discriminated against and to fail.

Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s, and lead author on the paper comments: 'Many people with schizophrenia experience stigma caused by other people’s negative knowledge, attitudes, and behaviour, and this can lead to poverty, social marginalisation, and low quality of life.  The aim of our study was to describe the nature, direction and severity of anticipated and experienced discrimination reported by people with schizophrenia. The fact that the findings are consistent across the 27 countries studied worldwide shows that the discrimination against people with mental illness is a global concern'

 Key Research Findings

Researchers interviewed 732 participants from across 27 countries for this study, asking them each 32 questions.  All of them had a diagnosis of schizophrenia.  Of the 95% who reported at least one negative experience, the most frequent issues were:

- 47% had experienced negative discrimination in making/keeping friends

- 43% had experienced negative discrimination from family members

- 29% had experienced negative discrimination in finding a job

- 29% had experienced negative discrimination in keeping a job

- 27% had experienced negative discrimination in intimate or sexual relationships

Almost all (93%) of participants anticipated discrimination in at least one area of life, e.g.  64% in applying for work/training/education, with 72% feeling the need to conceal their diagnosis.   Positive discrimination was rarely experienced and referred mainly to being treated more positively by family or in getting welfare benefits or disability pension.   Surprisingly, of those who anticipated discrimination in work, 52% had not experienced it.  Similarly, among those who anticipated discrimination in intimate relationships, 56% had not experienced it.

Commenting on these research findings, Professor Graham Thornicroft added: 'The rates of both anticipated and experienced discrimination are consistently high across countries among people with mental illness. Measures such as disability discrimination laws might not be effective without adding interventions to improve self-esteem of people with mental illness.'

4Th Annual Anti-Stigma Conference

The research publication coincides with the start of a major International conference on mental health discrimination entitled ‘Stigma and Discrimination: Evidence for Action’ organised by the Institute of Psychiatry between 21 and 23rd January 2009.  The Minister of State for Care Services the Rt Hon Phil Hope MP addressed the conference as well as the Liberal Democrat Shadow Health Secretary, Norman Lamb MP, and Anne Milton MP, Shadow Minister for Health.

The conference will bring together 240 delegates from over 50 countries worldwide including service users, carers, health practitioners and researchers, government ministers, voluntary organisations and NGOs all interested in stigma and discrimination.

Today also sees the launch of the Time to Change campaign – England’s most ambitious programme to end discrimination faced by people with mental health problems, and improve the nation’s wellbeing.  Mental Health Media, Mind and Rethink are leading this diverse programme of 35 programmes funded with over £18m from the Big Lottery Fund and Comic Relief and it is being evaluated by the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London.

Please refer to the Lancet press office for a copy of the paper at or refer to the journal for a copy of the article.   


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