Mental wellbeing

Brits becoming increasingly anxious

More people than ever becoming 'fearful and anxious' in the UK

A new report from the Mental Health Foundation reveals a UK society that is increasingly fearful and anxious, confirming the latest national statistics that show a long term increase in the rate of anxiety disorders in the general population.

UK-wide research carried out for In the Face of Fear found that more than a third of people (37 per cent) feel more frightened than they used to and a majority think the world has become more frightening in the last 10 years (77 per cent).

The survey backs up the findings of a recent report published by the Office for National Statistics this year which revealed that the rate of anxiety disorders England alone rose from 13.3% to 15.0%, between 1993 and 2007. Applied to the UK population as a whole, this would mean that 7.2 million (1 in 7) people now have anxiety disorders in the UK - an increase of 800,000 people.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, the more fearful people feel in the general population, the more people will be tipped over into diagnosable anxiety problems.

The report reveals that people with anxiety problems are four times as likely to develop high blood pressure, and the charity says that studies show a link between anxiety and weakness of the immune system. Anxiety is also associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and poor diet.

Report Findings

  • 37% of people (equivalent to 18 million UK adults) say they get frightened or anxious more often than they used to.
  • 77% of people believe people in general are more frightened and anxious than they used to be.
  • 77% say that the world has become a more frightening place in the last 10 years.
  • 29% say that fear and anxiety have stopped them from doing things they wish they had done.
  • 49% of people get anxious about money, with 66% experiencing some degree of fear or anxiety about the current financial situation.

Reasons to be Fearful

The reasons people gave for feeling more fearful or anxious than they used to included a loss of solidarity and community, the world becoming a more dangerous place, the threat of terrorism, the risk of crime, a loss of certainty and security, and media reports regarding their safety.

In addition to this, two thirds of those polled said they were anxious about the current financial crisis.

Women consistently report experiencing more fear and anxiety than men. They are more than twice as likely as men to say they feel frightened or anxious a lot of the time (11%, compared to 5% of men). They are also more likely to report increasing fear (43% compared to 30% of men). And 20% of women compared with 14% of men say they wish they could be less fearful or anxious in their everyday life.

Londoners (14%)were also found to feel anxious a lot of the time compared to the rest of the country (8%).

Mental Health Campaign

According to the charity, too few seek help for treatable anxiety problems from their GP. This is often due to not realising they they have a problem. While anxiety problems are usually treatable, they are massively under-treated, placing unnecessary suffering on individuals and families. Only 1 in 7 people with mixed anxiety and depression - the most common mental health disorder - are currently receiving treatment.

The charity is calling for attention to be paid to the general population’s mental health, and asserts that a campaign is needed to raise awareness about how people can better understand their emotions and protect themselves against anxiety and depression.

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "This report shows that fear is having a serious negative impact on the mental and physical health of the nation. The modern world will test our resilience again and again, and people need to know how to process their emotions better to prevent harm to their mental and physical health. A mental health promotion campaign that shows individuals how to look after their own mental health would be of immense public benefit, and help prevent common mental health problems like anxiety and depression."

More information

The Mental Health Foundation has helpful information about fear and anxiety, including a podcast and booklet, on its website:

This article was published on Tue 14 April 2009

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