UK adults accepting mental health issues as the new norm

Many do not seek help for stress, anxiety and depression.

  • 12 million UK adults suffered from stress, anxiety or depression in the past year and did not seek help
  • 42% of those who have experienced mental health problems are too embarrassed to tell people about it
  • Money worries are the main cause of depression and anxiety, while poor body image is the top cause of depression for 18-24s 
  • A third of UK adults (33%) have suffered stress in the past year with 29% experiencing anxiety and 23% suffering from depression

Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (16-22 May), research from Aviva has found large numbers of UK adults who experience mental health issues are not seeking help, with many too embarrassed to do so. Stress (33%), anxiety (29%) and depression (23%) are the most common mental health conditions experienced in the past year.

Of those who experienced stress, 55% did not seek support, while 48% did not seek help for anxiety. More people are taking action on depression, but around three in ten (29%) of those suffering with this in the last year still did not ask for support. In total, 24% or 12 million adults in the UK suffered from stress, anxiety or depression in the past year and did not seek help*.

The stigma associated with having a mental health problem could be preventing people from seeking help: almost a third (32%) of UK adults agree they would be too embarrassed to tell people if they had a mental health issue. This rises to 42% of those who have experienced mental health problems before.

Men are less likely than women to seek help for anxiety and depression, whereas men are more likely than women to seek help for stress (57% women vs. 52% men).

Of those who have personally experienced a mental health condition, 36% have now successfully recovered and a similar proportion (35%) say their condition is being managed effectively. However, 17% do not feel they are getting the right treatment.

Table 1: UK adults unlikely to seek help for mental health problems


% experienced in past year

% of sufferers who did not seek help (all) % who did not seek help (male) % who did not seek help (female)
Stress 33% 55% 52% 57%
Anxiety 29% 48% 49% 47%
Depression 23% 29% 31% 27%

 Money worries top list of causes of mental health concerns

Money worries are cited as the main cause for those who suffer from depression (28%) or anxiety (27%). Financial fears are also keeping people awake at night, with 26% saying this is the main cause of their insomnia.

While concerns over money are also a significant cause of stress (21%), work pressures are the most common cause, cited by over a third (34%). Unsurprisingly, juggling a work/life balance also plays a major role in causing stress (20%).

Aside from money worries, relationship difficulties (25%) and being unhappy with body image (21%) are noted as contributing factors to depression. Perhaps due to being particularly vulnerable to pressure about their appearance, younger age groups are most likely to agree their negative body image is contributing to them being depressed, shooting up to 37% of 18-24s.

Dr Doug Wright, Medical Director for Aviva UK Health says:

“You wouldn’t be embarrassed to visit a doctor or ask for help with a broken leg, and the same should apply to mental health problems: but there is still a stigma around this kind of illness. Many people are not seeking help and are having to battle on in silence. Not getting appropriate support will make it difficult for many sufferers to cope, and is likely to make their condition worse.

Although you can’t ‘see’ the problem, it’s important to realise mental health problems are often just as damaging as physical illnesses. Through initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week, we need to increase understanding and awareness of mental health problems so those who experience them don’t have to suffer alone.” 

– Ends  –

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All percentages and figures shown in this release (unless otherwise cited) come from an online survey conducted by ICM research for Aviva UK Health. The survey was carried out in August 2015. Respondents were invited from ICM’s online panel and 2,004 interviews were conducted amongst a nationally representative sample of the UK adult population.

*According to the survey, 24% of UK adult population (aged 18 and over) suffered from stress, anxiety or depression in the last year and did not seek help. 24% of 50,909,098 is 12 million people. Population figures from ONS table MYE2: Population Estimates by single year of age and sex for local authorities in the UK, mid-2014.

Notes to editors:

• Aviva provides life insurance, general insurance, health insurance and asset management to 33 million customers, across 16 markets worldwide
• In the UK we are the leading insurer serving one in every four households and have strong businesses in selected markets in Europe, Asia and Canada. Our shares are listed on the London Stock Exchange and we are a member of the FTSE100 index. 
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