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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

Severe mental illness is still misunderstood, survey shows

The public’s understanding of milder conditions has improved, but the explosion in reporting of mental health stories has not led to greater understanding or awareness of serious mental illness.

This increases the risk that people with severe mental illness won’t get the right care at the right time, our YouGov survey of 2,000 UK adults has revealed.


Do I need to be seen by a consultant?

The survey showed a yawning gap between the way the public considered serious physical health conditions, and serious mental health conditions.

% who said patient needs to see a consultant

% who said patient needs to see a consultant

But nearly a quarter were not sure about bipolar disorder, the survey commissioned in September 2017 showed. 

Alcohol addiction is a severe mental illness that is more deadly than some cancers – yet fewer than half (44%) of the people polled thought that someone with alcohol addiction should be referred to a consultant psychiatrist.

Eating Disorders are also serious mental illnesses, but only 59% of people questioned thought that people with eating disorder should be referred to a specialist. 


Which type of doctor diagnoses bipolar disorder?

People’s understanding of the role of a psychiatrist was also called into question.

Bipolar disorder is a severe mental illness experienced by up to 1.3 million people in the UK.

Yet 42% of people did not know that a psychiatrist is responsible for diagnosing this serious condition.

Which type of doctor diagnoses bipolar disorder?


Why does this matter?

Despite the vital role of psychiatrists in treating mental illness, recent figures published by the RCPsych show that in the last 5 years, the number of psychiatry consultants has increased by just 1.7%, while the number of consultants across the rest of the NHS increased by 20.2%.

% increase in consultants in last five years

Percentage increase in consultants in last 5 years

Our President, Professor Wendy Burn said: “The work done to tackle stigma has been astounding and I could not be prouder of the open culture we’re fostering about mental health. But our poll shows that people do not fully appreciate how severe mental illness can be.

“Psychiatrists are the only medically trained mental health professionals. When it comes to treating severe mental illnesses their input is irreplaceable. Only a psychiatrist can advise on the best psychiatric medications for certain conditions; only a psychiatrist can diagnose conditions such as psychosis.

“Early intervention is crucial to avoid patients reaching a crisis - but this can only be done if the skilled workforce is there to intervene.”


What can you do?

We’re calling on medical students and foundation doctors to Choose Psychiatry to support those with severe mental illness.

Find out more: our videos explain how psychiatrists make a difference, and our content shows how to become a psychiatrist and what to do next.

If it’s not you, maybe someone you know would be interested in a career in psychiatry.

Let’s get more people to Choose psychiatry.



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