07 November 2017

GPs report symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression are on the increase in the UK

5 min read

Lorna Wiltshire
Lorna Wiltshire

Lorna Wiltshire, Corporate PR Manager


  • 85% of UK GPs reported a rise in the number of patients with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in the last five years
  • 58% of UK adults who experienced stress, anxiety or depression for over one week did not visit their GP, and 21% waited six months before seeking help
  • GPs taking part in a study by Royal London reported that one in six people ask for their diagnosis to be concealed on a fit note

The majority of UK GPs (85%) reported a rise in the number of patients with symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression in the last five years, according to the results from a panel of 250 UK GPs commissioned by Royal London.

The data shows that GPs spend at least one day’s worth of consultations a week specifically discussing stress, anxiety or depression with their patients – yet those affected often delay seeking help.

A supporting survey of over 2000 UK adults reveals that over half of those (58%) who experienced feelings of stress, anxiety or depression that lasted more than a week did not visit a GP. Of this group, 41% said this was because they didn’t think their symptoms were severe enough and 29% said they didn’t believe their GP could help.

Only two in five (38%) saw a GP within a month of experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety or depression and 1 in 5 (21%) said they waited more than six months before making an appointment.

Nearly half of people (49%) who said they delayed seeing a GP wanted to try self-help methods first such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques or exercise. 1 out of 3 GPs reported that patients were encouraged to seek help by their friends or family, a positive sign of awareness.

Mental health triggers

One in three people diagnosed with stress, anxiety or depression said they were signed off work as a result, with the top three triggers being work related problems (34%), feelings of loneliness and isolation (32%), as well as relationship strains with friends and family (30%).

Of those who have sought help, just under 3 in 10 (28%) said they felt they have made a full recovery, but the majority (62%) felt they have not fully recovered and are still living with stress, anxiety or depression in some form.

While GPs report an increase in the number of people experiencing stress, anxiety or depression, the research indicates that many people still see physical illness as a more legitimate reason to take time off work and are often reluctant to speak to their employer about their mental health.

Three quarters (74%) of workers said they are more likely to take a day off work for a physical illness such as a bad cold or back ache than if they were suffering from stress, anxiety or depression.

Almost half of workers (45%) who have been diagnosed with stress, anxiety or depression admitted that they would feel uncomfortable telling their employer about their condition. A further three in five (59%) said they would not want any evidence of them having experienced stress, anxiety or depression on their work sick record - which ties in with GPs who claim one in six people ask for their diagnosis to be concealed on a fit note.

Ajay Khandelwal, Chief Executive at Lambeth and Southwark Mind, commenting on the findings said:

It’s concerning to read GPs report an increase in patient consultations for stress, anxiety and depression in the last five years, but even more worrying that people are delaying seeking help. This points to a high proportion of us living with symptoms that could have a severe impact on our day-to-day lives. From feeling unable to leave the house through to experiencing trouble at work or in personal relationships; even minor symptoms of stress, anxiety or depression can quickly escalate and push us to breaking point if we don’t take action.

“Recognising these symptoms is an important first step. Stress, anxiety and depression manifest themselves in different ways, but feeling out of sorts and ‘not normal’ is the biggest alarm bell. Other specific signs can include a loss of appetite or sleep; a lack of motivation or interest in things you usually enjoy, such as going to work or seeing friends; and having recurring thoughts about feeling out of control or the worst happening.

“Many of those who responded to Royal London’s survey preferred to try self-help methods prior to getting medical help and there are lots of things we can do to build our resilience. However, everyone is different and while self-help will be right for some people, others may prefer to seek help in person by visiting their GP, or speaking to a friend or family member. Most importantly, you should never suffer in silence. If you find yourself feeling different or out of sorts, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible.

Jennifer Gilchrist, Insurance Specialist at Royal London, comments:

Our research shows that people are delaying seeing a GP if they are suffering from stress, anxiety or depression. We encourage people to seek help earlier and if they don’t want to see their GP they could consider seeking help from a mental health charity such as Mind who provide support all over the country, providing long term therapies and peer support groups for people experiencing mental distress and supplementing support available on the NHS.

Mind has a number of resources to help people manage their mental health and access the right support: www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/

- ENDS –

For further information please contact:

Lorna Wiltshire, Corporate PR Manager

Notes to editor:

Royal London commissioned Opinion Health to conduct an online questionnaire with a panel of 250 GPs nationwide. The GP Panel sample is representative of national dispersion and covered 116 different CCGs. The fieldwork was conducted between 19th and 25th September 2017.

Royal London also commissioned YouGov to conduct an online omnibus survey. All figures relating to the consumer survey, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2103 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken on 28th and 29th September 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).

Lambeth & Southwark Mind is Royal London’s charity partner for London staff fundraising.

Royal London’s protection plans sold via financial advisers come with Helping Hand, which is a comprehensive support service available as soon as the plan starts. The service is provided by RedArc who offer the support of a dedicated nurse. They provide tailored and personal support whenever it’s needed for as long as it’s needed.

About Royal London:

Royal London is the largest mutual life, pensions and investment company in the UK, with funds under management of £117 billion, 8.8 million policies in force and 3,745 employees. Figures quoted are as at 30 June 2018.