A new study claims that nearly half of the UK population self-medicates by using drugs, alcohol and sex to cope with mental health symptoms. The LifeSearch study claims that 24 million people use self-medication as a coping mechanism: 20% use over-the-counter medication, alcohol or drugs, while others use gambling, sex, food or spending to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Exercise is used by 38% to help maintain their mental wellbeing, with one in 10 exercising to excess. The most common form of self-medication in women was food, with many admitting to using over or under eating to cope with mental health issues. Half of people who rely on self-medication said the behaviour has become a problem.
“While awareness of mental health is higher than it’s ever been, we’re seeing a gap between understanding and action”, said Emma Walker from LifeSearch.
“Many people don’t realise that their relationship with things like alcohol, drugs and exercise can be tightly related to their mental wellness and, alarmingly – when they do – they can be too afraid to talk about it. Often, using a coping mechanism like alcohol or drugs seems like the easy way out, however it doesn’t solve the issue at hand.”
Talking can help
One in three were said to self-medicate to get a sense of control over their mental health. One in five said they didn’t have anyone to talk to about their issues. When it comes to talking about mental health in general, one in eight don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it and only two in five talk to a partner.
“Swerving meeting your issues head-on or avoiding speaking the truth can have severe long-term implications, causing heartache for our loved ones later on. Mental ill-health shouldn’t be a barrier when it comes to safeguarding yourself and your family’s future – and it all starts with one open, honest conversation. We know that this is easier said than done, but we hope that we can inspire people to have those conversations”, said Emma.
LifeSearch’s Let’s Start Talking campaign is urging people to confide in others about these issues rather than trying to cope alone. It aims to encourage everyone to have those necessary but uncomfortable conversations.