‘Stigma effect’ stops three in five people experiencing mental illness from seeking help, survey reveals

15 May 2023

  • Survey lays bare how anxiety holds people living with a mental illness back from enjoying a good quality of life, preventing them from leaving the house, seeing friends and family, and taking part in hobbies and exercise. 
  • The survey also reveals concerns about stigma and lack of understanding, with nine in ten saying there isn’t enough awareness about what it means to live with a mental illness and three in five saying worries about the perceptions of others stopped them seeking treatment. 
  • Over half of people living with mental illness report they have experienced anxiety around their finances, and six in ten have been worried about accessing treatment.  


Three in five people living with a mental illness did not seek support due to a concern about how they would be perceived by others (58%), a survey by the charity Rethink Mental Illness has revealed. 

The survey of 1,300 people living with conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, eating disorders and personality disorders highlights how anxiety limits their daily lives and reveals concerns about stigma and a lack of understanding around severe mental illness.  

Three in four people experiencing a mental illness said anxiety prevented them from seeing friends and family (76%) and taking part in exercise or hobbies (74%). Nearly seven in ten said that anxiety stopped them from leaving the house (65%). And three in five (60%) said anxiety had stopped them from going to work or taking up volunteering opportunities.  

When it comes to the causes of anxiety, nearly nine in ten (85%) cited worries about the symptoms of their condition. Difficult accessing treatment was another major driver of anxiety (62%), while over half experienced anxiety about money troubles (56%).  

And in terms of understanding from others, 93 percent of respondents said they feel there isn’t enough awareness about what it means to live with a severe mental illness. 

The survey has been published to highlight the experiences of people living with mental illness as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2023. The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is anxiety. Rethink Mental Illness is calling for a cross-government plan which tackles the drivers of mental illness and improves support in areas such as personal finance, housing, and employment. 

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “This survey reveals how anxiety permeates the lives of people severely affected by mental illness, holding them back from doing the things which many take for granted, even preventing them from getting beyond the threshold of their own homes. As we mark Mental Health Awareness Week, it’s a timely reminder that we have a considerable way to go to improve understanding and empathy, particularly towards people severely affected by mental illness. 

“Anxiety is a common symptom across a range of mental illnesses but it’s so often exacerbated by the challenges people experience trying to access the treatment they need, issues such as poor housing or unsuitable work, or encountering stigma and a lack of understanding from others. Alongside ensuring that people have access to timely treatment, we also need a cross-government plan to improve support in areas such as personal finances, housing and employment, which would go a long way in reducing anxiety.” 

Aglaia, 25, London, who lives with bipolar disorder type II, said: “Treatment has been a major source of anxiety for me. Every time I tried a new medication, I would anxiously wait to see if it had any side effects and whether it was going to work. I had similar fears about changing doctors, and whether they had my best interests at heart. But my main source of anxiety has been the fear of being stigmatised and judged by others, and I sometimes avoid opening up. I’m lucky to have a supportive family, and my work to increase awareness around mental illness has been crucial in my journey to self-acceptance, helping me to speak more freely about what’s troubling me. But we still have some way to go to improve understanding and help others like me feel comfortable seeking help.”

Julian, 54, Wigston, who has a diagnosis of depression, anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, said: “My anxiety can be very demoralising and tiring. It has stopped me from seeing friends and family and even on occasion going to watch the football, something I love to do. Many things throughout the day have the potential to spark my anxiety – making a phone call, something breaking in the house and requiring maintenance, the health of my loved ones and pets, or issues at work or in relationships. I often have to seek reassurance from my wife. I have recently been prescribed a medication for when things are particularly bad, but it can make me drowsy, and I worry about my ability to carry out my usual responsibilities. We need a more compassionate and understanding society, one that listens to individuals and their unique experiences of anxiety and one in which people who have lived experience of anxiety are not afraid not speak out.    

Rosanna, 29, Kent, who experiences bipolar disorder and emotionally unstable personality disorder, said: “Anxiety has prevented me from experiencing certain things that I’d love to do, such as going to festivals or travelling, because I struggle with big crowds and new people and new places. I usually have someone with me when I go out, because I rely on them for travel directions while I focus on remaining calm. Worries about how this will be perceived by others only adds to my anxiety. During my manic episodes I often engage in risky behaviour, and I worry about my own safety and the strain this puts on my loved ones.” 

Ruqayyah, 29, London, who lives with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, said: “My friends make the effort to understand the underlying causes of anxiety, to reassure me that it’s out of my control, that the symptoms are real. They're rarely impatient if I need accommodations, but that hasn’t always been the case with everyone, and it’s been suggested to me before that I just ‘get a grip’. Anxiety isn’t just nebulous ‘worrying’ that can be controlled exclusively with a positive mental attitude; in my case it’s a neurological response to real environmental triggers, that requires accommodation, prevention, intervention, and support.” 


Notes to Editors

For further information or more detail from case studies, please contact Jamie Morrell, Senior Media Officer, via media@rethink.org or call 0207 840 3138.

About Rethink Mental Illness

No matter how bad things are, we can help people severely affected by mental illness to improve their lives. We’re Rethink Mental Illness, a leading charity provider of mental health services in England. 

  • We support tens of thousands of people through our groups, services and advice and information. 
  • We train employees, employers and members of the public on how best to support someone affected by mental illness. 
  • We campaign for the rights of people living with mental illness and their carers. 

Working alongside the people we support, we are saving lives. 

Help us raise funds to support us to reach those most in need.

Find out more at www.rethink.org