How the pandemic has shifted attitudes towards mental health

  • New polling shows a third of 18 to 34-year-olds sought mental health support of some kind for the first time
  • A similar percentage of 35 to 44-year-olds also sought help for the first time
  • Enquiries to Priory about depression treatment were 42% higher in January 2021 than the same month last year

Covid-19 may be the catalyst for a societal shift in attitudes regarding mental health.

One in three (32%) of 18 to 34-year-olds, and 31% of 35 to 44-year-olds, said they sought help for their mental health for the first time during the pandemic.

Overall, one in 10 respondents to a poll commissioned by Priory Group said they had sought help for their mental health for the first time.

The poll found that more men (12%) than women (9%) sought help.

During the pandemic, concerns over social isolation and increased feelings of anxiety and depression have become increasingly evident. Experts told the British Medical Journal that this, coupled with the increased use of services by the public, shows “there is a sense of a new normality to mental health help-seeking”.

The Priory Group, the leading independent provider of mental health services, has seen a significant rise in demand for its services. Inquiries about its private services for depression were 42% higher in January 2021 than in January 2020. There was a 21% increase in the number of enquiries about anxiety disorders over the same period.

Dr Natasha Bijlani, consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, says adults in their twenties have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic – and more willing to seek support.

“Changes in attitudes to mental health have also made it more acceptable to seek professional treatment,” she says.

The Priory’s findings show men were more likely than women to seek help. Dr Bijlani says; “Traditionally, men have been less likely to seek support for mental health issues. This is probably for a number of reasons including stigma and the traditional ‘strong male’ stereotype still prevalent in our society – the idea that expressing emotion is a sign of weakness.” Because of the toll the pandemic has taken across genders, Dr Bijlani says she is “not actually surprised to learn that more men are now coming forward for the first time”.

Technology may also have played a part. During the pandemic, new ways of delivering mental health services remotely, such as our online video therapy service allows people to access mental health specialists from their own home, have become popular. It also enables people in remote areas to access world-class specialists, is affordable for many, and a useful alternative to traditional psychotherapy settings.

The poll results chime with what Dr Paul McLaren, a consultant psychiatrist at Priory’s Harley Street Wellbeing Centre, has been seeing. He says that people not seeking help when they could have “has been a major problem, but it is turning around”.

Dr McLaren says unhelpful attitudes towards mental healthcare partly stem from historical prejudices; “In the past, stigma has been driven by a societal misunderstanding of mental health issues as moral failure or weakness.”

These prejudices exacerbate mental health problems because early intervention is vital. He says; “Early treatment can avoid serious consequences – whether that be the need to take time off work, hospitalization, and even suicide. Helping people accept their conditions and be aware of the signs of relapse can really improve their lifetime prognosis.”


* An online survey was conducted by Atomik Research among 1,002 respondents from the UK. The research fieldwork took place 12 - 15 February 2021. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code



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About Priory and MEDIAN

Priory is the UK’s leading independent provider of mental health services. We treat more than 70 conditions, including depression, anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as children’s mental health, across our nationwide network of sites. We also support autistic adults and adults with a learning disability, Prader-Willi Syndrome and brain injuries, as well as older people, within our specialist residential care and supported living facilities – helping as many people as possible to live their lives.

Priory is part of the MEDIAN Group, one of Europe’s leading providers of high quality mental health and rehabilitation services. The MEDIAN Group comprises 290 facilities with 5,000 beds caring for 28,000 people in the UK, 120 facilities with 20,000 beds caring for around 250,000 patients in Germany, and 15 facilities with 2,000 beds caring for 13,000 people in Spain, with more than 29,000 employees overall.

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