Millions of employees delay seeking help for mental health problems

Misconceptions and a lack of awareness are to blame

An estimated seven million employees delay seeking support for a mental health problem because of misconceptions and a lack of awareness, a study suggests.

The survey of 1,098 UK workers found the majority struggled to identify the symptoms of common mental health conditions.

Bipolar was the most misunderstood mental health condition with 85% of people unable to identify the most common symptoms of feeling sad, hopeless and irritable, lacking energy, and difficulty concentrating.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are also commonly misunderstood by the majority of employees. 

On the other hand, 91% were able to identify the key symptoms of depression and 49% were able to recognise the most common signs of anxiety, such as restlessness, a sense of dread or insomnia.

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 colleague needs support more quickly, which can significantly improve outcomes. 

The findings show general awareness of mental health issues have improved among 72% of workers over the last five years, however 59% do not know the main traits of specific conditions and would not recognise mental ill-health in a colleague. 

Mental health misconceptions commonly held by employees include OCD is about “liking things neat and tidy” (85%), PTSD involves being violent (57%) and anxiety is “being afraid to go outside” (57%).

Fionuala Bonnar, chief operating officer for Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England, said intervening in a mental health issue early can help people get on a path to recover or manage symptoms at the earliest possible opportunity.

“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,” Bonnar added.