Do Britons really regard physical and mental health as equally important?

Eir NolsoeData Journalist
October 10, 2021, 10:51 AM UTC

YouGov examines British attitudes to various conditions

With World Mental Health Day approaching, a day aiming to remove the stigma around mental health issues, a new YouGov survey shows that three quarters of Britons (77%) say society should consider mental and physical illnesses as equally important. Only 11% admit to wanting physical conditions to take priority, and one in twenty (5%) say mental health issues should come first.

But does society actually give the two types of illnesses parity of esteem? Britons are sceptical: only one in seven of (15%) believe that society currently considers mental and physical health issues to be of equal importance. Approaching two thirds of Britons (63%) say society prioritises physical health, while 9% believe it puts mental health first.

Britons see depression as more serious than anxiety

So if Britons do consider mental and physical health problems to be equally serious, then how serious do they consider the most common mental health problems to be?

Asked as part of a question looking at attitudes to a range of 16 different ailments, 89% of Britons say they consider depression to be a serious condition, including 45% who say it is a “very serious” condition and a further 44% said they believe it is fairly serious.

Within the range of responses, these are comparable results to HIV, which 85% see as serious (48% very/37% fairly). It is also a similar score to that given to other mental health issues like PTSD, eating disorders and bipolar disorder.

Anxiety, another very common mental health disorder, is generally seen as less serious than depression. While three quarters of Britons (75%) consider it a serious affliction, the number saying they consider it “very serious” falls to 25%. This puts the condition close in the public mind to issues like asthma and arthritis.

From our list, the public see schizophrenia as the mental health condition with the highest severity. Nine in ten (90%) consider it serious, including 60% who say it is very serious.

Cancer came at the very top of our list, with 96% of Britons considering it serious and including 87% who see it as very serious. This was followed by heart disease, which 95% say is serious (73% very serious) and dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, which 94% say is serious (72% very serious). This trio of diseases also happen to be the three biggest causes of death in the UK (excluding coronavirus more recently).

Younger people tend to view many physical conditions as less grave than older Britons, with only 57% of 18-24-year-olds saying heart disease is very serious, compared with three quarters of those aged 65+ (77%).

In contrast, they are the group that’s most likely to deem common mental health disorders as ‘very’ serious. For example, half of 18-24-year-olds (52%) classify eating disorders as such, compared with 39% of those aged 65+. Likewise, 31% of young Britons say anxiety is highly serious, compared with a fifth of older Brits (22%).

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 or contact them by email at jo@samaritans.org 

See the full results here