Research published today by Bupa has revealed that the majority of people in the UK struggle to identify the symptoms of common mental health conditions, leading to delays in seeking treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions can improve recovery rates, but the research reveals that inaccurate assumptions have caused one in four (25%) – almost 13 million (1) – to delay seeking support for a mental health issue.

The study from Bupa examined the nation’s understanding of key psychological and behavioural symptoms (2) of six of the most prevalent mental health conditions in the UK, as well as identifying widely-held misconceptions. The findings show that general awareness of mental health issues has improved for more than half of people (53%). But with so many experiencing a mental health issue, greater understanding of the signs and symptoms is needed, as 60% (3) of people are currently unaware of the main traits of specific conditions.

Commenting on the findings, Fionuala Bonnar, Chief Operating Officer, Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said:

“Intervening in a mental health issue early can help us get on a path to recover, or manage symptoms at the earliest possible opportunity, which has the potential to improve our lives, both socially and emotionally. Educating people to be mental health aware is the first step to encourage early intervention, but as Bupa’s research reveals, there is a deeper knowledge needed if we are to improve outcomes for those affected by mental ill health.”

“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 other’s 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.”

Specifically, the research revealed that Bipolar is the most misunderstood mental health condition with 86% of people unable to identify all of the most common symptoms and 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’. 

On the other hand, nine out of 10 people (90%) are able to identify the key symptoms of depression and half the nation (51%) is able to recognise the most common signs of anxiety such as restlessness, a sense of dread or insomnia – a positive move for the three million people who experience anxiety in the UK. (4)

The study also highlights what shapes people’s understanding of mental health. Friends and family with a condition (49%) and documentary TV programmes (46%) are the nation’s main sources of information, while 16 per cent are influenced by celebrities’ experiences. 

Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, says: 

“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. 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."

“If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health it’s important to seek medical advice. To reduce the time between diagnosis and treatment we launched our Mental Health Direct Access service. It offers people access to specialist mental health support without the need for a GP referral, and I would encourage anyone with questions around mental ill-health to seek advice.”

  1. Respondents reported that mental health misconceptions of people generally (25%), friends and family (26%) and their own (25%) – average 25 per cent - have delayed them seeking help. Opinium estimates the UK adult population is 51,767,000; equating to 12,941,750 people who have delayed seeking help.
  2. The main three symptoms / behaviours of each condition according to NHS Choices Mental Health statistics.
  3. The study examines six of the most prevalent mental health conditions (anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, phobias, bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder) according to Mind mental health facts and statistics, sourced from: McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital. 
  4. Anxiety UK statistics – approximately three million people in the UK are living with anxiety.