Posted on November 5, 2007

As World Mental Health Day Approaches, Survey Shows Global Issues Leave 1 in 7 British Adults Reluctant to Have Children

News Release, Mental Health Foundation (London), October 8, 2007

* Terrorism and immigration worry nation more than climate change and natural disasters

* Most people feel powerless in the face of global problems

According to a new public attitudes survey out today, 1 in 7 adults are reluctant to have children (15%) and 1 in 4 less inclined to plan for the future (27%) because of world troubles.

In a YouGov survey commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, 70% of people say they are most worried about terrorism and 58% by immigration. In contrast, environmental issues are less of a concern—only a third are worried about climate change (38%) and a quarter by the threat of a natural disaster (23%).

How global issues are affecting people’s emotions

World events leave some respondents feeling powerless (56%), angry (50%), anxious (35%) and depressed (26%). The survey also shows gender differences—men report feeling more angry (53 to 48%), frustrated (49 to 44%) and cynical (32 to 25%) than women, while women say that they feel more anxious (39 to 30%), scared (23 to 11%) and vulnerable (39 to 26%) than men about global issues.

How people deal with their worry about global issues

To help cope with worry about global issues, more than a third of respondents say that they seek to find out more about an issue (38%). Almost the same number says that talking to family and friends provides relief (33%). Taking action is the answer for a quarter of adults who say that voting (25%) helps whilst 12% find comfort in a religious or spiritual belief. 1 in 3 are of the opinion that nothing can alleviate their worry (30%).

Why are people more worried about terrorism and immigration than climate change and natural disasters?

Commenting on the research, clinical psychologist Dr Michael Reddy said:

“As social animals, we are sensitive to dangers from other humans that are intentional, such as terrorism. Accidental dangers, such as natural disasters fail to motivate us in the same way. Immigration ranks highly as a worry because humans identify themselves as belonging to particular groups who share the same values and codes of behaviour—this is one of our main ways of feeling secure. Feeling a threat to one’s group from an unknown force, such as immigration, can threaten this sense of security and make people feel anxious.

“Humans tend not to register climate change as a threat because despite there being plenty of emerging scientific evidence on the subject, it doesn’t leave the majority of people thinking they’re at risk because the factual information doesn’t reach the feeling part of the brain, which is where individuals sense threat.”

Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said:

“The world is currently facing a number of different threats that seem to be resulting in a general level of heightened anxiety and frustration, as this survey shows. Even if a threat poses very little actual risk, the worry is still real and can impact on a person’s day-to-day life and mental wellbeing. If angst is reaching a level where adults are contemplating whether or not to have children, then this could be a serious mental health issue because the current global issues aren’t going away in a hurry.

“To help lessen any worry, a person should find out more about the issue that is concerning them and talk to others about it. It is normal to feel afraid and powerless about things we don’t understand—educating ourselves and sharing concerns with others makes us feel more secure and helps us gain new outlooks. Immigration is a good example, as much evidence suggests that rather than posing any real threat it boosts our economy as well as enriching our communities.”

Advice to alleviate worry

* Get all the facts and know the full picture.

* If the news makes you feel depressed or anxious about world troubles, take a break from the daily media for a while.

* For your own wellbeing, try not to dwell too much on global issues that leave you feeling powerless. Do what you can in your day to day life but remember you can only play one person’s part.

* If you feel strongly about an issue, join a campaigning charity that represents your concerns.

* Remember that the likelihood of being caught up in a terrorist act is slim.

* Individuals who have experienced trauma as a result of a natural disaster, such as a flood, or a terrorist attack need practical help to get on with their daily lives. This can be difficult but with help from family and friends a person can feel safe again. If an individual has feelings of prolonged depression and anxiety or post traumatic stress, professional help should be sought.