Are we becoming more fearful in the UK? The question is answered by the Mental Health Foundation in their report, In The Face of Fear, with a clear ‘yes’. The report presents evidence showing a consistent increase in anxiety over the past couple of decades.
Mental health in a scared – and scary – world
The MHF’s own national fear survey carried out in 2007 reveals a growing perception that the world is a frightening place, and that individuals respond, not surprisingly, by being scared of many aspects of it.
The thrust of the report is that these two phenomena – an increase in the number of people with anxiety issues, and the generally fearful perception of the world – are linked to each other. If there is a high degree of fear in our society, then a proportion of us inevitably become anxious enough to seek the help of a therapist or doctor, alongside large numbers of us who feel distressed and anxious but find it possible to cope without help.
The steps we can take
However, there’s nothing inevitable about any of this. As a society, we can take steps to counter fear, to make the world feel and crucially, be safer…and, the report argues, this is a clear and urgent public health issue, with social, economic and cultural dimensions, and one we absolutely can’t afford not to tackle.
The report lists pragmatic steps any government, of whatever hue, could take immediately, to promote good mental health. At present, only about £4 million, or less than 0.1 per cent, of the £4.5 billion adult mental health investment is directed at prevention. Business, education, media have a role to play in reducing fearfulness by increasing understanding of the way it works, and making this understanding work for us. Our culture is very good at ignoring fear and its effects – and when fear is ignored, it can rule us more easily. The report puts forward a way out of the trap.