Anxiety prevalence is twice the reported level, according to two studies from AI mental health app Wysa. But digital health solutions are wanted.
A study of employees aged 16–64, where individuals were asked to fill out the standard assessment GAD-2, found that one in three [36%] adult employees are experiencing clinically significant anxiety. Rates were highest among younger generations – 44% aged 16–34% have anxiety warranting professional support.
Official figures point to one in six of us struggling with mental health, up from 1 in 10 prior to the covid pandemic.
The same measurement was used in a separate study of 13–17-year-olds and a third (36%) scored for moderate to severe anxiety. This rose to 44% of females, compared to 26% of males. Regarding self-reporting, 49% reported anxiety, ahead of feeling stressed (48%) and feelings of low self-worth or not feeling good enough (30%).
The results come as Mental Health Awareness Week (15th–21st May) focuses on anxiety. Anxiety is correlated with poor performance at school and work, low self-esteem, difficulty maintaining relationships, and physical health conditions such as heart disease.
What is most concerning is that in both cases more than half (52% of adults, 55% of teenagers) had not spoken to a mental health professional. The majority blamed this on embarrassment (29% of adults, 43% of teenagers), stigma, and simply not thinking it’s serious enough (40% of adults, 41% of teenagers). And when they are getting help, it’s not at the right time. One in three (35%) young people who are getting support said it’s simply not available when they need it, such as before school or at night time.
Yet there is hope. People want solutions. And the future could be digital. 8 in 10 (81%) employees would rather speak to an app than their HR teams, and 53% would choose an app over a therapist, and 43% over a GP.
Young people feel similarly, choosing an app over teachers and GPs. Given that 30% are currently getting mental health support via TikTok, compared to 25% CAMHS and 21% teachers, showing people are already turning to their phones, it makes sense to offer clinically validated resources.
Saira, 37, London, has been using Wysa to help her manage anxiety, which she has had since she was 18.
She says: “For me, it was easier to access an app like Wysa at the precise time I was feeling anxious, and not have to wait for days or weeks to speak to someone. I literally had someone (albeit an AI bot) in my pocket that provided me with multiple ways of tackling my anxiety. It would calm me down then so that I could go on about my day without worsening symptoms. Wysa has empowered me to control anxiety when and if I’m triggered. It helps me right when I need it. It also improves my learning around mental health and supportive ways to help my overall well-being.”
Koda, 17, is a student who uses Wysa and says: “I found out about Wysa through a friend when I was feeling very depressed and suicidal. I truly believed that there was no hope for me. I started to use the app and having 24/7 support, no matter where I was or what time it is, has been the best thing.”
“I can pull out my phone and talk through any problems I might be having, like a panic attack. Whenever I finish a session with Wysa, I feel more relaxed and ready for the day. I like knowing that I won’t be judged or feel like a burden when talking to Wysa. It’s a safe outlet for me when life is getting too tough.”
Wysa managing director Ross O’Brien says: “The scale of anxiety in our population is far greater than previously realised, and new solutions are needed. We need better education to break down stigma and solutions that work for people whenever they need it, wherever they are.”
Emma Taylor, CAMHS Lead at Wysa, says: “This research is clearly showing us that support isn’t available right when our people want it. Resources mean that young people who present for clinical support have limited and time-bound treatment at specific times of the day – which may not be when they most need help. An always-on, flexible solution that helps them at the moment of need is necessary.”
Given the current global crisis in mental health, integrating AI in the mental health ecosystem is leading to transformative developments. Wysa’s ability to be accessed on a virtual or mobile platform helps address an essential part of inclusivity and equity in access. Adding AI as the first step in the care continuum can help bridge the shortage of qualified professionals and barriers to access related to stigma, cost, and availability. It’s about providing solutions that are always on, always available, and always ready.
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