AS many as two million Scots regularly suffer from anxiety, with financial concerns among the key causes, mental health experts have warned,
New research by charity Nuffield Health has found 37 per cent of those north of the Border experience anxiety symptoms at least once a week, compared to 34 per cent five years ago, when the recession first hit.
Of those patients with symptoms of low mood or anxiety, which doctors say are early indicators of depression, 22 per cent admit they cannot cope with life unless they have some help, such as taking anti-depressant medication, researchers said.
Nuffield Health said the top three reasons for people feeling anxious were financial issues, at 43 per cent, family worries at 41 per cent and problems at work at 33 per cent. But the medical group, which owns the private Nuffield Glasgow hospital, suggested too often GPs are prescribing medication instead of physical and mental exercise.
Its survey found 40 per cent of those with anxiety were prescribed anti-depressants and none of those who had seen their doctor had been recommended exercise as a way to alleviate symptoms. Dr Davina Deniszczyc, medical director at Nuffield Health, said: “We are faced with a ticking mental health time bomb.
“I see time and again the effects of poor mental health on patients at my GP surgery. The compelling evidence that physical activity can play an important role in both treating and alleviating early symptoms of mental ill health isn’t sufficiently filtering to frontline and primary care services.
“We are calling for all GPs to treat mental health as they would any other condition that can benefit from treatment with exercise – like chronic heart disease, diabetes and obesity.”
The survey of 2,000 people found that despite knowing physical activity can help just 17 per cent, turn to exercise when struck down with depressive symptoms. Dr Deniszczyc said: “Research from Nuffield Health and the London School of Economics earlier in the year highlighted the potential to reduce the risk of poor mental health by 6 per cent if people regularly participated in exercise. This would in turn save the NHS and Government up to £6.3 billion a year in loss of earnings, associated treatment and welfare costs.”
Beth Murphy, from the mental health charity Mind, said: “Mind has found that people who do regular exercise or take part in ecotherapy activities such as gardening can improve their mental well-being and reduce feelings of depression.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is aware of the link between poverty, debt and mental health problems and is delivering a range of initiatives to ensure Scots experiencing these issues get the support they need.”