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Aware’s national survey reveals continued high rates of depression and anxiety

Second annual survey indicates that little has changed, with more than half reporting depression and 4 in 10 experiencing anxiety

Day-to-day lives of adults experiencing moderate depression significantly impacted

  • 1 in 4 adults are living with a chronic illness, and are most likely to experience moderate depression
  • 3 in 5 say anxiety makes work and attending to responsibilities difficult
  • Stigma still an issue – half cited shame and fear of judgement for delay in accessing supports
  • Financial worries impacting on mental health of 56 per cent
  • Narrow understanding of depression symptoms
  • 1 in 10 under 25 believe they are currently experiencing depression

Aware, the national mental health organisation today announced the findings from its second annual national survey looking at the public’s experience and perception of depression and anxiety. With results broadly in line with the 2023 findings, the survey emphasises the ongoing prevalence of depression and anxiety and their impact on individuals and communities throughout Ireland. The online survey was conducted by Amárach Research with a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults in April 2024.

Narrow understanding of range of symptoms

Despite 3 in 4 respondents (72 per cent) claiming good awareness of depression, when asked to list the main symptoms, the majority only referenced symptoms directly linked to mood such as feeling low or sad, loss of interest and low energy. Awareness of physical symptoms and those linked to overall wellbeing was limited – not one respondent mentioned physical aches and pains, only 13 per cent referenced changes in sleeping patterns and merely 8 per cent cited suicidal thoughts and low self-esteem.

Irish adults reporting high rates of depression and anxiety

1 in 5 respondents stated an official diagnosis of depression (21 per cent versus 24 per cent in 2023), with more than half (53 per cent) reporting what they believe was an experience of depression over their lifetime. Females and those aged 35-54 are most likely to have received a diagnosis. 1 in 10 respondents under 25 have not been diagnosed but believe they are currently experiencing depression.

12 per cent of those surveyed scored within the range for moderate levels of depression at the time of completing the survey (via clinical assessment tool, the PHQ-2). Moderate depression was most prevalent amongst those with a chronic illness (18 per cent) and C2DEs – skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled manual workers, casual workers, pensioners and the unemployed (16 per cent). Nearly two-thirds (62 per cent) of those with moderate depression say that their mood is so low, they can’t function most days.

Considering all respondents who reported a lifetime experience of depression, the impact of low mood on day-to-day life was varied. A majority (59 per cent) say they can live their lives as normal, but two thirds say that it can make work and other responsibilities difficult (66 per cent versus 60 per cent in 2023). 3 in 10 (29 per cent) are significantly affected, saying that most days their mood is so low they can’t function.

Anxiety rates also continue to be high, with 17 per cent citing a diagnosis of anxiety disorder, increasing to 1 in 4 (25 per cent) for those aged 25-34. A further 8 per cent believe they have an undiagnosed anxiety disorder and 17 per cent say they experience anxiety frequently. The condition is most prevalent amongst those aged 18-34 and appears to reduce with age, impacting on only 30 percent of over 55s.

In terms of impact on daily life, 27 per cent say that most days their anxiety is so bad they can’t function, up from 1 in 5 (20 per cent) in 2023. 3 in 5 (60 per cent) say their anxiety makes going to work and attending to responsibilities difficult, a significant increase from 45 per cent in 2023. Those with moderate depression are more likely to be impacted by anxiety (79 percent versus 60 percent of total sample), those aged 25-34 and C2DEs.

Commenting on the results, Dr Susan Brannick, Clinical Director at Aware said: “Our results show that not only do depression and anxiety remain a problem for many people, but for those experiencing more severe difficulties, they can have a significant impact on daily life. It’s striking that those living with a chronic illness are experiencing higher rates of depression. This highlights the need for responsive and timely mental health supports and services across general health settings for those living with a chronic illness.”

Factors impacting on mental health

Financial worries continue to be the number one issue for 56 per cent. This is followed by family responsibilities (36 per cent), relationships (34 per cent), and work (31 per cent). Topical issues such as the current economic climate and housing are negatively affecting 24 per cent and 21 per cent respectively. While money is the top issue to impact on mood across all demographics, factors then vary depending on age. Adults aged 25-34 over index on the widest range of factors. Apart from money, relationships and work have a significant impact on 18-24 year olds, whereas family responsibilities have more of an impact on 35-44 year olds. Factors impacting on mood are at greater levels for those currently experiencing a moderate level of depression.

Correlation between loneliness and depression

Perception of loneliness and social isolation are widely considered to be key indicators of mental wellbeing and a recent EU survey[2] of more than 25,000 Europeans in 27 member states cited Ireland as ‘the loneliest country in Europe’ when 20 percent of respondents in Ireland reported feeling lonely. Utilising the UCLA Loneliness Scale and cross referencing with respondent’s PHQ-2 scores, the survey indicated a correlation between moderate depression and higher levels of loneliness (59 per cent versus 35 per cent of the whole sample).

More people are taking action to address their mental health difficulties

More people experiencing depression and anxiety are taking action to address their mental health difficulties, increasing from 74 per cent in 2023 to 81 per cent in 2024. Almost half (49 per cent) have attended their GP, psychiatrist or psychologist, on par with 2023. 2 in 5 (41 per cent) have confided in someone, a third (35 per cent) made lifestyle changes. 3 in 10 (28 per cent) have attended counselling and 26 per cent utilised medication. Females are more likely to have reached out for support (85 per cent) and younger adults aged 18-24 are less likely to have taken action.

Those who attended a healthcare practitioner and received a diagnosis were most satisfied with the information they received about lifestyle changes (64 per cent received ‘enough’), medication and side effects (56 per cent). Significantly, almost half (45 per cent) reported being dissatisfied with the information given about healthcare supports including talking therapies, which are an evidence based first line treatment for depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, perceived stigma continues to inhibit people from accessing supports. Almost half (45 percent) of those surveyed who delayed accessing mental health support cited ‘shame, embarrassment or fear of judgement’, an increase from 2 in 5 (39 per cent) in 2023. Only 3 in 10 (30 per cent) are open about their experience of depression, with 43 per cent of saying they only share with close friends and family.

Of those experiencing depression and/or anxiety, 1 in 4 feel they have been treated unfairly because of their mental health difficulties (vs 21 per cent in 2023), the majority stating issues with employment (51 per cent), followed by friendships (44 per cent), family relationships (44 per cent) and romantic relationships (36 per cent).

Majority taking a proactive approach to managing mental health

Getting a good night’s sleep is still the main way in which adults are supporting their mental health (67 percent), closely followed by time spend on enjoyable activities (64 per cent), exercise/movement (63 per cent), connecting with others (58 per cent) and a balanced nutritious diet (49 per cent).  1 in 4 (26 per cent) practise mindfulness, meditation or other relaxation exercises.

Reflecting on the survey results, Dr Brannick concluded: “Our results indicate that whilst we have come a long way in tackling depression and anxiety in Ireland, we still have a considerable way to go. More education is needed around the signs of depression that affect thinking, body sensations and behaviours. A concerning number of people are telling us that difficulties with their mental health is having a significant impact on their day to day lives. A large number report ongoing stigma as a barrier to accessing mental health support and people who have sought help from professionals are not receiving satisfactory information regarding evidence-based interventions for depression and anxiety beyond medication. It’s vital that policy makers start to fund our mental health services across the country at the levels required to meet the needs of the public.”

*Sample of 1,200 = margin of error of +/- 2.8%

 

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