Most People Can’t Identify Symptoms of Common Mental Health Conditions

Amie Sparrow
By Amie Sparrow,
updated on Jun 22, 2018

Most People Can’t Identify Symptoms of Common Mental Health Conditions

A new study shows that most of the UK have a general awareness of mental health, but fall short on identifying symptoms of common conditions

Most people in the UK can't identify symptoms of common mental health conditions, according to a new study, which found that this shortfall resulted in millions delaying treatment.

The study from Bupa and Mental Health First Aid England found that 60% of people in the UK are unable to identify symptoms of the most common mental health conditions: anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and phobias.

On the other hand, general awareness of mental health issues has improved in more than half of the 2,000 people surveyed. Awareness of depression and anxiety are especially strong, with nine out of 10 people able to identify key symptoms of depression and more than half of people able to identify the most common signs of anxiety.

"It's reassuring to see that there is greater general awareness of mental health issues. However it's clear that many people would not recognise the symptoms of specific conditions," Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK said. "A better understanding of mental health conditions would help people to identify whether they or a loved one needs support more quickly, which can significantly improve outcomes."

The survey also uncovered where people say they are getting information on mental health. Nearly half of people said they know about mental health conditions because of friends and family with a condition; many others said they get their information on mental health from documentary TV programmes, and a small number of people noted they learn about mental health from celebrities’ experiences.

Identifying misconceptions

Bipolar is the most misunderstood mental health condition, with 86% of people unable to identify all of the most common symptoms such as feeling sad, lacking energy, and difficulty concentrating. Further symptoms include elevated mood and hyperactivity.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also commonly misunderstood by the majority of people, with many mistakenly believing that OCD is about 'liking things neat and tidy'.

Commonly-held mental health misconceptions include:

  1. OCD is about 'liking things neat and tidy' (89%)
  2. PTSD involves being 'violent' (57%)
  3. Anxiety is 'being afraid to go outside' (54%)
  4. People with mental health conditions 'spend more time at home' (47%)

Symptoms of common mental health conditions:

Anxiety: Restlessness; a sense of dread; insomnia

Bipolar: Feeling sad, hopeless or irritable; lacking energy; difficulty concentrating or remembering

Depression: Continuous low mood or sadness; feeling hopeless or helpless; low self-esteem

OCD: Obsessive thoughts or urges; feelings of anxiety or distress; repetitive behaviours or thoughts

Phobias: Sweating; trembling; hot flushes or chills

PTSD: Flashbacks; nightmares; irritability

Fionuala Bonnar, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said, "To drive change, MHFA England is working to train one in ten of the population in Mental Health First Aid, which is evidenced to increase knowledge of common mental health issues, and confidence in offering support on a first aid basis."

"Our vision is to create a society where people are skilled to be able to look after their own and others' wellbeing, including developing a deeper understanding of the signs and symptoms of a range of mental health conditions. In doing so, we will help to bridge the gap in knowledge that Bupa's research has identified, and ensure more people are empowered to access the right help at the right time."

Amie Sparrow

By Amie Sparrow

Amie is a contributing writer for Happiful and PR Manager for Happiful and Memiah.

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