Aware, the national mental health organisation, recently announced the findings from its national survey looking at the public’s experience and perception of depression and anxiety.
The online survey was conducted by Amárach Research with a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults* from 28th April to 4th May 2023.
The findings are summarised below:
Under 25s and those with a chronic illness most significantly impacted
- 3 in 5 report experience of depression; 4 in 5 report experience of anxiety
- 1 in 10 under 25 believe they are currently experiencing depression
- Money worries impacting on mental health of 3 in 5
- Unhealthy cycle: Feeling depressed/anxious leads to increase in social media usage for almost half (48 per cent); 44 per cent say it contributes to stress
- One fifth feel they have been treated unfairly because of mental health difficulties
Public awareness of depression appears to be strong with nearly 4 in 5 (73 per cent) saying they are familiar with the symptoms of depression and two thirds (66 per cent) confident that they would recognise the symptoms in someone close to them. Older adults report lower awareness with one third of over 55s (34 per cent) ‘not sure’ of the symptoms. A majority (73 per cent) would address someone close to them if they suspected they were depressed.
Irish adults reporting high rates of depression and anxiety
The survey revealed that depression remains prevalent with 3 in 5 (58 per cent) reporting experience of what they believe is depression, and almost one quarter (24 per cent) stating an official diagnosis. Of those, half (52 per cent) have experienced a depressive episode more than twice and 27 per cent say they experience depression ‘often’. A diagnosis is more likely for females (30 per cent of those who reported experience of depression vs 18 per cent males) and those aged 25-44 (64 per cent). 1 in 10 respondents under 25 years of age believe they are currently experiencing depression.
The impact of depression is varied, with 3 in 5 (60 per cent) saying they can live their lives as normal, but that low mood can make work and other responsibilities difficult. 28 per cent are significantly affected, saying that most days their mood is so low they can’t function. This is particularly relevant for adults under 25 (37 per cent) and those with a chronic illness (35 per cent).
Anxiety rates also appear to be high, affecting 3 in 4 adults (74 per cent) with almost half of those (48 percent) saying they experience anxiety ‘frequently’. Females (82 per cent vs 67 per cent males) and under 44s (86 per cent) are most likely to be affected. Anxiety appears to reduce with age, impacting on only 63 percent of over 55s. While many say they experience a degree of anxiety, 1 in 5 (20 per cent) say that most days their anxiety is so bad they can’t function.
Commenting on the results, Dr Susan Brannick, Clinical Director at Aware said: “It’s very concerning to see such high rates of depression and anxiety being reported. As a society, we have recently experienced a prolonged period of change and unrest with the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent economic, social and psychological impacts. It’s reasonable to expect this to have affected our mental health and our ability to cope. We know that depression can have a significant impact on all aspects of a person’s life. The results of our survey further reinforce the need for increased government funding for mental health provision to ensure timely and equitable access to supports.”
People are taking action to address their mental health difficulties
For respondents who experience depression and anxiety, a significant majority of 4 in 5 (74 per cent) have taken action to support their mental health, with visiting their GP (39 per cent), confiding in someone (38 per cent) and making lifestyle changes (34 per cent) at the top of the list. One quarter (26 per cent) have attended counselling and utilised medication (24 per cent). On the whole, females are more likely to have reached out for support (81 per cent) with 31 per cent of males not ‘doing anything about it’.
Of the 2 in 5 (41 per cent) who attended a GP, psychiatrist or psychologist, a majority (83 percent, 79 percent and 86 percent respectively) believed the care they received ‘definitely’ or ‘to some extent’ met their mental health needs. Conversely, almost half of those diagnosed with depression felt they didn’t receive enough information with regard to the diagnosis and potential impacts (43 per cent), medication and side effects (57 per cent), healthcare-based supports (44 per cent) or community supports like Aware (40 per cent).
Stigma remains an issue – barriers to reaching out for support
Despite increasing awareness and understanding around mental health, perceived stigma is inhibiting some people from accessing supports. 2 in 5 (39 per cent) of those surveyed who delayed accessing mental health support cited ‘shame, embarrassment or fear of judgement’. Shame or embarrassment are particularly of concern for younger age groups (18-34: 43 per cent) and the ABC1 demographic (37 per cent). For 1 in 5 (21 per cent) the delay was attributed to an assumption that people ‘won’t understand’. Other barriers to accessing supports included not knowing ‘what to do’ or ‘who can help’ for 31 per cent. 17 per cent cited a lack of mental health services or supports in their area.
Of those experiencing depression and/or anxiety one fifth feel they have been treated unfairly because of their mental health difficulties with around half stating issues with employment (51 per cent), friendships (49 per cent) and family relationships (49 per cent).
What factors are impacting on our mental health?
3 in 5 (57 per cent) cited financial worries as the number one issue impacting on their mental health. This is closely followed by relationships (44 per cent), family responsibilities (41 per cent) and work (40 per cent). Topical issues such as the current economic climate and housing are negatively affecting 32 percent and 26 per cent respectively. Three years on, Covid-19 is still a concern for almost 1 in 5 (18 per cent). While money is the top issue to impact on mood across all demographics, factors then vary depending on age. For example, work is the next concern for under 35s (61 per cent) while it is lower on the list for over 55s (14 per cent), who rate poor physical health (31 per cent) more highly.
Social media: Complex and unhealthy cycle
A growing body of research in recent years highlights the complex relationship between social media and mental health, with users experiencing both positive and negative impacts. The results of this survey further reinforce these findings. While 72 per cent of respondents said that social media acts as a distractor from their problems and 3 in 5 (62 per cent) believe it contributes towards greater connection with others; almost half (46 per cent) said it affects their sleep, 44 per cent agree that it exacerbates their stress and anxiety and for 2 in 5 (38 per cent) it negatively impacts on mood, contributing towards their depression. Furthermore, almost half (48 per cent) reported that feeling depressed or anxious can lead to increased screen time, contributing towards an unhealthy cycle of social media usage.
Positively, the majority of people who have tried to reduce social media use in an effort to improve their mental wellbeing say they have been ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ successful. One quarter of respondents (26 per cent) plan to reduce social media use in the coming year.
Majority taking a proactive approach to managing mental health
When asked if they felt they were supporting their mental health sufficiently, a majority (69 per cent) said they are doing ‘enough’, with 1 in 5 (21 per cent) saying they have always prioritised their mental health. 1 in 10 (11 per cent) have started paying more attention to their mental wellbeing since Covid-19. 31 per cent say they aren’t doing enough or aren’t sure if they are.
Over half say increased conversation around mental health has motivated them to take better care themselves and the top ways to mind mental health included sleep (66 per cent), exercise (63 per cent), activities that bring enjoyment (60 per cent) and connecting with others (57 per cent).
Respondents plan to invest in their mental health in a range of ways in the coming year to include improving physical health (64 per cent), doing more things they enjoy (61 per cent), self-care (45 per cent), improving financial situation (40 per cent), investing in relationships that are important (38 per cent) and reducing time spent on relationships that have a negative impact (34 per cent), setting boundaries (30 per cent) and evaluating work-life balance (reducing hours for 16 per cent, setting better boundaries for 13 per cent and changing jobs for 12 per cent). 1 in 5 (18 per cent) mention engaging in more mindfulness and 15 per cent plan to seek out and take support.
Reflecting on the survey results, Dr Brannick concluded: “While it’s certainly worrying to see so many people reporting experience of depression and anxiety, it is encouraging that a majority are taking action – seeking out supports and taking a proactive approach to managing their mental health. Despite this, there are still too many people suffering in silence. I would encourage anyone who thinks they might be experiencing depression to reach out, talk to your GP or contact a service like Aware. It’s important to remember that you aren’t alone in this and supports are available.”