AnxietyUp to 12 million UK adults who experience mental health issues do not seek help – with embarrassment cited as the main reason for not doing so, research has found.

Research from Aviva found that stress (33%), anxiety (29%) and depression (23%) were 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 still 29% 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 still seems to prevent people from seeking help: 32% agreed 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. 

Of those who have experienced a mental health condition, 36% have recovered and 35% said their condition is being managed effectively. However, 17% did not feel they were getting the right treatment.

Money worries were cited as the main cause of people’s depression (28%), anxiety (27%) or stress (21%). Work pressures were the most common cause of stress according to respondents, with 34% saying it was the primary cause. Allied to that, juggling work/life balance was also a major cause of stress (20%). 

In addition, 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 were most likely to agree their negative body image was contributing to them being depressed – 37% of 18-24s cited this. 

“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,” said Dr Doug Wright, medical director for Aviva UK Health. “Many people are not seeking help and have 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. We need to increase understanding and awareness of mental health problems so those who experience them don’t have to suffer alone.”