LST Mental Health & Self-Medication

LST Mental Health & Self-Medication

28 May 2019

Nearly half of Brits ‘self-medicate’ their mental health 

  • One in five currently rely on drugs and alcohol to cope with issues 
  • Many 'self-medicate' to feel more in-control but take behaviour to extremes
  • Others feel they can’t talk to anyone about their mental health
  • So experts at LifeSearch are urging people to start these important conversations 

More than 24 million Britons self-medicate their mental health symptoms, including using illegal drugs or alcohol to cope with mental health issues*. 

The new study by the UK’s leading life insurance broker, LifeSearch, demonstrates the scale of the issue for the first time. Nearly half (45%) of over 16s use coping mechanisms to ‘self-medicate’  current mental health issues, and six in 10 (60%) say they have done so in the past. 

For one in five (21%)  self-medication comes in the form of drink, over the counter meds or even illegal drugs, while others use gambling, sex, food or spending to alleviate chronic mental health symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia or even depression**. 

Looking at the drivers behind this behaviour, one in three (34%) self-medicate to get a  sense of control over their mental health, while one in five (21%) say they don't have anyone to talk to about their issues. 

When it comes to talking about mental health in general, one in eight (12%) don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it and only two in five (42%) talk to their partner about it. 

LifeSearch is now urging people to confide in others about these issues rather than trying to cope alone as part of its Let’s Start Talking campaign, which aims to encourage Brits to have those necessary but uncomfortable conversations.    

The research also reveals that seemingly healthy behaviours can be taken to extremes in the name of self-medication. While 38% use exercise to help maintain their mental wellbeing, one in 10 (11%) exercise to excess. In women, three in 10 (30%) currently use over or under eating to cope with mental health issues, making it the most common form of self-medication. In fact, half of people (48%) who rely on self-medication said the behaviour has become a problem.

Emma Walker from LifeSearch commented:

“While awareness of mental health is higher than it’s ever been, we’re seeing a gap between understanding and action. 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. 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. Talking openly and honestly and awkwardly is the bedrock of LifeSearch – it's what we have to do to protect people. And it's what we're asking people to do to protect themselves.”

LifeSearch has created a range of guidance and advice to help people talk about mental health

Table 1: Coping mechanisms relied on to alleviate mental health issues (either in the past or currently): by gender

Coping mechanism






OTC medication



Illegal drugs















Shopping / spending



Over / under eating




Notes to the Editors

Omnibus research was conducted by CensusWide on behalf of LifeSearch. This was an online poll of 2005 adults aged 16+ and a national representative spread. The research was conducted between 24 April 2019 and 26 April 2019. 

The LifeSearch ‘Let’s Start Talking’ Report was released in March 2019 and polled 2,031 people between 17th and 21st February 2019. The data was weighted to be a national representative sample. Full report is available here.

* There are 53,534,872 adults aged over 16 in the UK, according to CensusWide. 45% respondents in the survey currently use a coping mechanism to alleviate their mental health issues. 45% of 53,534, 872 = 24,090,692.

** In addition to alcohol, OTC and illegal drugs, common coping mechanisms being currently used in UK adults include over or under eating (22%), shopping and spending (17%), sex (14%), over-exercising (11%) and gambling (7%).

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