What’s normal? Brits unsure when to get support for mental health

13 January 2020 . United Kingdom

  • People in the UK experience mental health symptoms 300 days a year
  • But almost half aren’t sure what’s normal for them – or when to seek help
  • Bupa UK launches new campaign to encourage people to speak out about their ‘normal’ and to seek help if concerned

People in the UK experience mental health symptoms most of the time but many aren’t sure where their ‘normal’ ends and poor mental health begins, potentially leading to delays in seeking help.

A new study into the state of the nation’s mental health by Bupa UK shows that, for most people, a ‘normal’ day includes potential mental health symptoms such as stress, anxiety, loneliness or fatigue. In fact, eight in 10 people experience at least one potential symptom on 300 days of the year, with only 65 days symptom-free.1

And although everyone’s definition of normal is different,2 almost half of people (45%) aren’t sure where this ends and mental ill health begins3, potentially leading to delays in treatment and diagnosis. Over half of people who had previously experienced poor mental health said, at first, they just assumed it was ‘normal’ for them.4

With the vast majority of people experiencing potential symptoms day-to-day and almost four in 10 admitting they regularly ‘don’t feel like themselves’ (38%), Bupa mental health experts are urging people to speak up at the right time about any concerns.

This research launches alongside Bupa UK’s new brand campaign which focuses on mental health and challenges what’s considered to be ‘normal’. Bupa UK aims to normalise seeking appropriate support for mental health by offering reassurance that, with over seven billion versions of normal on this planet, there is no one type of ‘normal’.

Dr Luke James, Medical Director at Bupa Global & UK Insurance said: "It’s true that everyone is different – in fact there are seven billion types of normal on this planet – and the factors that influence our mental health will be different from person to person. But what’s really key is to know what normal feels like for you, and when to seek help.”

In fact, many people wish they could be open about how they feel, but seven in 10 are held back from seeking help. This is either because they’re not sure what would be considered ‘normal’ and what would be considered a worrying symptom, or are too embarrassed to talk about it, preferring to ‘just get on with it’ or simply because they’re not sure what help is available.5

Dr Luke James continued: “Poor mental health affects one in four people each year, and it’s only by being honest about how we feel – with ourselves and those around us - that we can tackle the stigmas that still remain. It can be hard to distinguish between what’s ‘normal’ for you and what may be a symptom of a more significant mental health issue, and I often recommend that people try to think about whether their symptoms have been affecting them for two weeks or more, and if so, to seek help. At Bupa, we’re constantly advancing our mental health services to make sure individuals and their families get the help they need, when they need it.”

The methods people use to help maintain ‘normality’ also vary widely. Getting a good night’s sleep, listening to music and spending time with family are the top three things we rely on to help us feel ourselves, while worryingly others turn to smoking or drinking alcohol.6

Bupa recognises that mental health is just as important as physical health and is committed to providing extensive mental health and wellbeing support to its customers, its own people and the wider community. As part of the campaign, Bupa is also launching a new online Mental Health Hub, which is accessible to everyone. It aims to be a go-to source of information, guidance and practical tips to help people further understand their mental health so that they feel confident in knowing when to seek help.

The campaign follows recent developments in Bupa UK’s mental health services, including cover for more conditions, ongoing support for longer term conditions and further support to families about are worried about their child’s mental wellbeing through the Family Mental HealthLine. Fast Access to support is also available through Bupa’s Mental Health Direct Access service, which allows insurance customers to speak to a specialist without needing a GP referral.

Notes to editor

Research conducted by Censuswide among 2,001 UK adults aged 18+, December 2019.

1 80% of people experience at least one mental health symptom such as stress, anxiety, fatigue, sadness, loneliness, mood swings, emptiness or self-hatred. The average number of days experiencing these symptoms is 300.

2 71% agree that everyone has their own definition of normal.

3 45% aren’t sure where their ‘normal’ ends and poor mental health begins

4 57% of people have previously experienced mental ill health.

5 39% wish they could be more open about how they feel. 70% of people say they would be prevented from seeking help for a mental health symptom. 14% would be prevented by ‘not being sure of what’s normal and what would be considered a mental illness’, 13% would prefer to wait for it to pass on its own, 12% would be too embarrassed, 8% aren’t sure what help is available.

6 43% say getting a good night’s sleep helps them feel normal. 37% say listening to music does, 36% say spending time with family does. 14% drink alcohol and 11% smoke cigarettes to help them feel normal.

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives. With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

Health insurance accounts for the major part of our business with 18m customers and contributes 74% of revenue. We operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets. We run aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

We directly employ around 83,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Chile, Poland, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Turkey, Brazil, the US, Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

For more information, visit www.bupa.com.