Results from a recent Mental Health Foundation survey indicate stress is becoming increasingly common in these difficult economic times; a fact also highlighted by the recent NHS Information Centre survey revealing that hospital admissions for stress have risen by seven per cent in just 12 months. The survey was conducted as part of the Foundation’s January initiative to raise awareness of stress and its impact on people’s mental health, and to encourage access to a wide range of resources to help people manage it better.
When asked about how often people felt stressed almost half (47%) of all respondents revealed that they feel stressed every day or every few days (24% respectively). 59% of British adults reported that their life is generally more stressful than it was five years ago.
Money (26%) and work-related issues (28%) were given as the main cause of stress for 54% of Britons who have felt stressed, reflecting recent Health and Safety Executive figures which indicated a rise in sick days due to work-related stress.
Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:
“The impact of current economic problems has put a lot of people under pressure due to the fear, or reality, of unemployment, insecure housing and high levels of debt and these results are not surprising. Unmanaged, stress can develop into serious mental health problems, such as depression, as well as increasing the risk of physical illness such as heart disease.
“The results of our survey suggest that too many of us still aren’t making managing stress a priority. It’s important to recognise the symptoms of stress early. Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking or smoking.”
When asked for their top three ways they found helpful to deal with their stress, 41% of respondents said they spend time alone, making it the most common approach. This was closely followed by talking to partners, family and friends about it (40%) and spending time enjoying their favourite hobbies (39%).
Worryingly 18% found drinking alcohol and 10% found smoking helpful while only 6% would consider visiting a GP or a medical professional for their stress related issues. Turning to smoking and alcohol can actually make both mental and physical problems worse. Research shows that smoking increases anxiety, generating withdrawal symptoms and increased cravings. Alcohol may temporarily alleviate the feelings of anxiety but symptoms will increase in the long run.
Regarding the impact of stress on people’s day-to-day life, almost half of the respondents (49%) said that they found it more difficult to sleep which, if not tackled in itself, could lead to more serious mental health problems as highlighted in our Sleep Matters report. Feeling short tempered and irritable (49%) was another high rated answer followed by feeling tired all the time (40%) and finding it hard to switch off (39%).
Dr McCulloch added:
“We hope that these results will help people realise the impact that stress can have on people’s mental health and help promote a healthier 2013. We are also calling for the government to offer more practical help for people to manage their stress better. The introduction of the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme was a great step forward, but more needs to be done as only only a quarter of those who need treatment are getting it.
In addition, admitting people to hospital for stress is usually an expensive solution to a problem that should have been solved earlier in a primary care or workplace setting. We must invest in less costly, more effective early intervention services for people experiencing such stress instead of waiting for people’s distress and symptoms to require a hospital admission.”