Britons and Mental Health: Time to Act

  • Research
  • 4 September 2023

New report exploring the British public's starting points on mental health and their expectations for improving mental health support 

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Over the past six months, More in Common has been speaking with Britons about their views on mental health. What we found was not the polarised debate we sometimes see in the media, between those who care about mental health and those who dismiss it as ‘woke complaining’. Instead, we’ve seen a sea change in how the British public thinks and talks about mental health. 

That shift is thanks to the decades of work from campaigners and mental health professionals, alongside ordinary people sharing their stories about living with mental health issues. 

More in Common’s report ‘Britons and Mental Health: Time to Act’ identified several key findings: 

  • Half the public (52 per cent) know someone who lives with a mental health problem and seven in ten (69 per cent) worry about the mental health of their friends and family often or sometimes.
  • Only one in five think the mental health system is working well and the public expects action to improve mental health support in communities and hospitals, as well as better mental health training for NHS staff.
  • Half the public (49 per cent) think that workplaces don’t take mental health seriously enough – particular improvements are needed in blue collar industries.
  • Two in five voters say mental health will be an important election issue for them - a number that grows for typical Red-wall voters and Tory-Labour switchers. 

Britons talk mental health

Britain today is much more aware of and comfortable talking about mental health – eight in ten Britons now say they would be comfortable if a friend shared how their mental health was affecting their life.

From More in Common’s conversations over the last six months, it is clear the public want to see efforts from politicians that turns their talk about mental health into real action. Only one in five Brits (22 per cent ) say that the health system is performing well when it comes to mental health – and they look to a mix of the government, the NHS and individuals themselves to improve support for mental health.  

The politics of mental health

In the run up to a likely general election in 2024, and with changes to benefits for people with long-term mental illness rumoured to feature in the Chancellor’s 2023 Autumn Statement, the politics of mental health are under the spotlight - this report outlines the increasing importance of mental health as an important electoral issue. 

Two in five Britons (40 per cent) say that parties’ plans for mental health will shape who they vote for at the next election. Almost half (49 per cent) of typical Red wall voters (Loyal Nationals) say mental health will be important for who they vote for at the next election. Those voters who voted Conservative in 2019 but now say they’d vote Labour (Tory-Labour switchers) place even more importance on mental health as an electoral priority (57 per cent versus 40 per cent average). In More in Common’s issue tracker, mental health also regularly ranks between six and eight top issue and is a top five issue for Gen Z and Millennials. 

I think that's the problem – a lot of people don’t know who to go to or where to turn to really. And anything to do with the government just seems to be totally not enough to help these people. So yeah, I think it seems to be quite a serious issue at the minute. Like I said, you don't know if it is genuine depression or if it's just somebody feeling a bit low. But yeah, I think it's quite worrying at the minute the amount of people that seem to feel that way.

Gemma, Loyal National, Blyth

I think it's even more important now than probably ever. I think from Covid time onwards to now, it just feels like nothing's getting better. The cost of living, food going up, you’re just hearing it more and more. The pressures, especially if you've got a family, if you are on minimum wage, especially the gas and electric prices, they're not matching your wage, it’s nowhere near matching now how much you're needing to survive. Now more so than ever, a hundred percent. I think mental health is so important right now and should be really prioritised.

Rebecca, Loyal National, Blyth

Public’s priorities for mental health reform 

Improving support services in communities, better emergency responses in hospitals and A&E and better mental health training for NHS staff are the public’s top three priorities for mental health reform. In short, the public favour improving the provision that is already in place rather than creating radically new structures or institutions. That improved mental health services in communities is the public’s top policy priority on mental health is partly driven by the public’s perceived need to take pressure off acute services.

More mental health support needed from workplaces - particularly in blue collar industries 

The public expects workplaces to do more to support their employees’ mental health. Almost half the public (49 per cent) do not think that employers take mental health seriously enough – while only a tiny minority (7 per cent) think that employers take mental health too seriously.

Those segments who work in more white collar and blue collar jobs have different views on how seriously workplaces take mental health. Loyal Nationals (who are more likely to work in blue collar jobs) are more likely than average to say workplaces don’t take mental health seriously enough (53 per cent v 49 per cent average) while Established Liberals (who are more likely to work in white collar jobs) are much less likely to agree that workplaces don’t take mental health seriously enough (36 per cent versus 49 per cent average). More work is clearly needed to promote positive workplace cultures on mental health not just in white collar office jobs, but also in blue collar jobs up and down the country.

How Britons think and talk about mental health has transformed over the last decade, but as we approach the General Election next year, our research shows the British public wants more than just talk from politicians, they want to hear concrete policies for how they’ll improve the nation’s mental health. But the public doesn’t think responsibility will just sit on politicians’ shoulders alone. While much has been done to ensure that workplace mental health support has been provided for those in office jobs, our research finds those in more blue-collar jobs do not feel the same. Having already borne a greater burden during the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic, more needs to be done to urgently address this inequity.

Luke Tryl, UK Director, More in Common

Rethink Mental Illness commissioned More in Common to conduct this public opinion research as part of its long-term aim of highlighting the importance of mental health. More in Common retained full editorial control of this research and thanks the Rethink Mental Illness team for their advice and input throughout the project.