How common is mental distress?
According to the mental health charity Mind, one in four people in Britain are affected by or living with a mental health problem.
People with mental distress may experience problems that affect the way they think, feel and behave. The term 'mental distress' is used to describe a range of mental health issues, from the more common problems such as anxiety and depression, to the less common, such as schizophrenia.
Within this fact-sheet you will find the latest statistics and information about mental health problems in Britain. We will also explore the most common forms of mental distress and the symptoms many people experience.
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Mental distress in Britain
In October 2015, Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) released their final Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Statistics (MHLDS). The data showed that by the end of October 2015, over 970,000 people were in contact with a mental health or learning disabilities service. It was also found that 17,000 people were subject to the Mental Health Act 1983 and over 12,500 were detained in hospital.1
The stigma associated with mental distress is starting to change. While more people living with mental illness are starting to feel able to talk about their experiences, there is still a long way to go. Stereotypes and negativity surrounding poor mental health continue to mean that many still feel that they have nobody to talk to.
A 2016 Time to Change survey of over 7,000 people living with mental health issues found that 64% were feeling isolated, 61% worthless and 60% ashamed of their condition. They explained they felt this way because of the stigma and discrimination they regularly face.
That said, the results suggest progress has been made in raising awareness and reducing discrimination. Time to Change explained that over half of those involved in the survey said it is easier to talk about their mental distress now than ever before. 60% also said they felt relieved and "like a weight had been lifted" once they talked about their condition.2
Unfortunately this isn’t always the case and not everybody feels they can speak out. The 2011 NICE guidelines reported that many of those suffering do not seek treatment; therefore many conditions are going undiagnosed. This is despite 90% of those diagnosed globally being treated in primary care.3
they felt relieved
after talking about their condition.
showed symptoms of anxiety or depression in 2013.
Types of mental distress
According to the Mental Health Foundation, the most common mental disorder in Britain is mixed anxiety and depression, with up to 10% of people suffering from depression at some point in their lifetime.
Following depression, the most common conditions include:4
- generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- social anxiety disorder
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- panic disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the 2013 Wellbeing Survey, almost one in five people in the UK aged 16 or over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression. This result was higher in women (21.5%) than in men (14.8%).5
Symptoms of mental distress
Any form of mental distress will be accompanied by a set of symptoms. However, each will differ from person to person and vary in severity. Some of the symptoms commonly associated with mental health problems include:
- panic attacks
- psychotic experiences
- suicidal thoughts.
Common symptoms of depression include low mood, fatigue and loss of interest or excitement in things previously enjoyed. Often, symptoms of depression will impair emotional and physical well-being, as well as the behaviour of the person.
Prevalence of mental distress
While the number of people affected by mental distress is shocking and appears to have risen over the years, many believe that the increase is a result of more people talking about it and seeking help. We are becoming more aware of the prevalence of mental health across all genders and age groups and slowly, the stigma is starting to change.
In a 2009 report, it was found that women were almost twice as likely as men to suffer an anxiety disorder in England.6 However, the 2014 figures released by the Office for National Statistics show there were 6,122 suicides recorded in the UK. While 24% of these were female, 76% were male.7
There has also been research into the prevalence of mental health problems in pregnancy. A 2015 report found the most common forms of prenatal and postnatal mental distress include anxiety, depression and PTSD.8 However, it is not just the women suffering mental distress during pregnancy. A 2010 meta-analysis estimated that globally, 10% of new fathers will also suffer from postnatal depression.9
In 2013 The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that worldwide, 20% of young people were at risk of experiencing a mental health problem.
An English study of 3,366 young people in 2015 found that since 2009, both boys and girls experienced similar levels of mental health concerns, including emotional problems, hyperactivity and conduct problems. However, results showed a significant increase in emotional problems in girls and a decrease in boys experiencing mental health difficulties.10
The Mental Health Foundation report that 75% of mental health issues are established by the age of 24 and 50% are established by the age of 14. It was also found that 10% of young people aged between five and 16 years have a clinically diagnosable problem. However 70% of those experiencing mental health issues are not receiving the appropriate support or intervention at an early age.11
How can counselling help?
One way of managing the effects of a mental health problem is talking about it. Whether you are living with a mental health problem, or know somebody else who is, it is important to talk about your experiences and the stigma associated.
Counselling will provide you with the opportunity to explore and be open about your thoughts and feelings without shame, judgement or discrimination. The counsellor is someone to listen to you and offer support.
There are a number of treatments available for those living with a mental health problem. Talking therapy can help you understand what may have caused the problem and how you can manage it. Common forms of talking therapy include:
- cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- cognitive analytical therapy (CAT)
- creative therapy
- counselling and psychotherapy
- family intervention.
Mental distress can affect each person differently, while some symptoms can be more manageable, others may need specialised treatment. To learn more about the treatments available and how counselling can help you, please visit our mental health fact-sheet.
1HSCIC – Mental Health and Learning Disabilities Statistics Monthly Report. 2016, Key facts.
3 NICE guidelines – Common mental health problems, Introduction, May 2011.
4 Mental Health Foundation – Fundamental Facts PDF 2015, (page 19).
5 ONS – Measuring National Well-being: Life in the UK, 2015 (page 17).
6 2009. Prevalence, incidence, morbidity and treatment patterns in a cohort of patients diagnosed with anxiety in UK primary care. Family Practice, 27(1), (p.9-16).
8 Ayers, S. and Shakespeare, J. 2015 – Should perinatal mental health be everyone’s business? Primary Health Care Research and Development (page 323-325).
9 Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. 2010 – Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers: a meta-analysis. The Journal of the American Medical Association (page 1961).
10 2015. Mental Health Difficulties in Early Adolescence: A Comparison of Two Cross-Sectional Studies in England From 2009 to 2014. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(5), (page 502–507).
11 Children’s Society 2008 The Good Childhood Inquiry: health research evidence. London: Children’s Society.
Page last reviewed: 12/02/16