Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Ambivalent Attitudes

Evidence of stigmatization draws on themes we see within the 21st century discourses around mental health. For example, the 2018 House of Commons Reducing Stigma around Eating Disorder briefing paper asserts that "as with many other mental illnesses, eating disorders are often surrounded by stigma and misconceptions. Similarly, a research paper named Attitudes to Mental Illness 2014 led by Time to Change mental health campaign found that 12% of their sampled audience agreed that "it is frightening to think of people with mental problems living in residential areas." Hence, it is evident that across society there exists a misunderstanding/negative perception around mental health. At the same time, it is clear that the stigmatization is acknowledged and that there exists an effort to spread awareness and fight the issue, given that it is included within a government report as well as a charity's progress report. Thus, one can see an ambivalence, where there exists both the negative attitudes which form stigmatization, and also the positive attitudes which attempt to fight it.

The presence of this ambivalence in the 20th century will be explored below, in an attempt to illustrate a continuity, with the hope of establishing an understanding of the bridge between the two centuries in the context of mental health.

Labour Party Research Department Public Health Advisory Committee Draft Memorandum on the Mental Treatment Bill 1930- (MSS.292/841.18/5/2/pp1)

Labour Party Research Department- Public Heath Advisory Committee Draft Memorandum on the Mental Health Treatment Bill 1930

Here, we can see one side of the previously described ambivalence, the side which acknowledges the stigmatization of mental health problems. Dr Rickards argues that the "removal of the stigma of pauperism" against patients must be prioritised. Hence, there is an acknowledgement and want to change the negative perceptions of mental health. Although stigmas today perhaps centre more on issues about gender rather than class, within the discourses of mental health and its perceived progress, there exists an awareness of negative conceptions of mental health and it is treated as an issue within the treatment of such issues.

Mental Health Journal Summer 1957 Volume XVI No. 3- The Ideas of the Television Public about Mental Illness- (MSS.378/SHWO/HW/4/1/ 5)

Extract from 'Mental Health Journal'

Mental Health Journal Summer 1957 Volume XVI No. 3- The Hospitals as a part of the Mental Health Service- (MSS.378/SHWO/HW/4/1/ 5)

Extract from 'Mental Health Journal'

On the other hand, we can see evidence of the negative views which form stigmatisation. The first excerpt exemplifies the heterogeneous nature of mental health opinions, which explains the presence of such ambivalence. While some people express "sympathy" towards the mentally ill, others express "impatience." Hence, in addition to the acknowledgement and effort in dealing with stigmatization present in the government documents above, we see here the evidence of the views themselves. Thus, an ambivalence is clear, as there exists those who aim to tackle the issue,and those who express attitudes which cause the issue. This point is corroborated by the City of Salford Report on Mental Health Conference:

City of Salford Report on Mental Health Conference (MSS.378/APSW/P/19/3/1)

Extract from City of Salford Report on Mental Health Conference

Dr Joshua Bierer gives further evidence of this ambivalence in society but within the medical context. He expresses his dissatisfaction with the negative attitudes towards mental illness. At the same time, the existence of this expression of sadness is evidence of the presence of understanding of such issues too.


Hence, a stark continuation can be seen between the two centuries. A heterogeneous society with ranging opinion perspectives exists in both time-periods, thus complexifying the distinction between the two times in terms of mental health.