mhfMore than half of Britons say they wish they felt less anxious in everyday life, a new report has found.

The report, Living with Anxiety, by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), has been published alongside the launch of a major new campaign, to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week, to raise awareness and understanding of anxiety and its potentially debilitating effect on the nation’s mental health and emotional wellbeing. 

Although anxiety is a natural human emotion, the more anxiety that people feel, the more they are likely to be tipped over in to diagnosable anxiety disorders, such as panic, phobias and obsessive behaviours, and to experience poor emotional wellbeing and personal distress.

New data included in the report, from a YouGov survey of 2,300 adults, reveals:

Nearly 1 in 5 people (19%) feel anxious a lot or all the time and, for this group, anxiety is something that 61% experience on a daily basis

1 in 5 young people and 1 in 4 unemployed people feel anxious a lot or all the time

Only 7% of people say they visit their GP to cope with feelings of anxiety, while 24% comfort eat and 18% “hide away from the world”

Stigma continues to prevent people from seeking help, with 26% agreeing that feeling anxious is a sign of not being able to cope and 29% said they would be embarrassed to tell someone they have anxieties

57% said they wished they could be less anxious and 48% say anxiety has sometimes stopped them from doing things.

The report also makes a number of recommendations to ensure that support for living with anxiety is provided in the least stigmatising and most inclusive way possible: 

Universal approaches to learning to live well with anxiety should be built into school curriculums from primary onwards, including an understanding of the role of anxiety in our lives, and techniques for managing stresses associated with school

Peer-led approaches should be promoted by employers, in recognition of the value of empathic support and understanding that those with a common experience can provide

GP training and anxiety-related guidance should be assessed and adapted to work for groups of people who are at highest risk of developing problematic anxiety

A sample of psychological services should be audited to establish how well current referral processes are working 

Agencies offering support to people with anxiety should make greater use of peer mentors and advice and information based on the experiences of people who live with anxiety.

Under-diagnosed and under-treated

Jenny Edwards CBE, chief executive of the MHF said: “Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems in the UK and it is increasing: yet it remains under-reported, under-diagnosed and under-treated. 

“A good ability to cope with anxiety is key to our resilience in the face of whatever life throws at us. However, experiencing it too much or too often means we risk becoming overwhelmed. Anxiety at this level can have a truly distressing and debilitating impact on our lives and impact on our physical, as well as mental health.

“As individuals and as a society we need to be more anxiety aware. If we truly recognised the cost anxiety has on society, as well as the mounting distress it causes to individuals, communities and employers, we would act now.”  

The campaign is backed by presenter and journalist, Anna Williamson, who has suffered from generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder for the past 10 years.

“I know only too well the feelings of dread, the severe panic attacks and the irrational thinking that go hand in hand with anxiety,” she said. “At the time you feel like no one will understand but, from my own experience, I know the true value of talking to others and being strong enough to ask for help, which for me has proven anxiety can be brought under control. 

“Anxiety can happen to anyone and it’s time we had our voices heard. That’s why I’m supporting the Mental Health Foundation, along with thousands of other anxiety sufferers, to fight stigma and make the UK more anxiety aware.”