The Mental Health Foundation today released a report showing problem anger is left untackled in the UK, despite widespread concern about aggression, family breakdown and physical and mental health problems linked with anger.
The Boiling Point report says chronic and intense anger has been linked with heart disease, cancer, stroke, colds and flu as well as depression, self-harm and substance misuse. Higher levels of anger are related to lower levels of social support and higher stress levels. Anger is more likely to have a negative effect on relationships than any other emotion.
Problem anger goes largely untackled unless someone commits an aggressive criminal act, when a court may refer them to anger management training. The charity says we are intervening too late and could save many lives from being damaged if we tackled it earlier.
The report records interviews with GPs, psychologists and providers of anger management courses and therapies as well as a public attitude survey. A literature review carried out for the report suggests anger studies and interventions for problem anger are in their infancy.
Anger is a vital emotion, and essential to our survival, but it can become entrenched in everyday life for some people, interfering with their thinking, feeling and behaviour and creating misery for themselves and others.
A public attitude survey carried out for the report shows widespread concern. Almost two thirds (64 percent) of participants in a YouGov* survey of just under 2,000 adults say that people in general are getting angrier. According to the poll almost a third of us (32 percent) have a close friend or family member who has trouble controlling their anger. More than a quarter (28 percent) of us worry about how angry we sometimes feel; and one in five (20 percent) of us say we have ended a relationship or friendship with someone because of how they behaved when angry.
Polling also found strong public support for tackling problem anger – 84 percent of us believe that people should be encouraged to seek help if they have problems with anger. But 58 percent wouldn’t know where to go.
Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation said:
“In a society where people can get help for depression and anxiety, panic, phobia, eating disorders and a range of other psychological and emotional problems, it seems extraordinary that we are left to fend for ourselves when it comes to an emotion as powerful as anger. We need to be able to recognise when anger is damaging our lives, ask for help and receive it.
In the media and in mainstream life we hear a lot about road rage and many other types of rage. Our polling shows that the general public understands what’s going on. But as a society we have yet to tackle the issue. It is the elephant in the room in mental health. This is not about excusing bad behaviour, but about helping individuals and communities to take responsibility. Tackling it won’t be simple or straightforward, but the benefits could be enormous.”
The report says that problem anger is not a mental illness in itself but many of the everyday tools used in mental health – such as talking therapies – can be applied to help people cope better with anger. But the area has been neglected by researchers, clinicians and policy makers. Consequently people who might benefit enormously from learning how to manage their anger better are not encouraged to come forward, or when they do, they may be offered little or nothing in the way of useful support.
Boiling Point says that there are already a number of schemes run by public, private and voluntary sector organisations that are targeted at helping people deal with problem anger. But most of these are post-hoc interventions to which people are referred because they have already got into considerable trouble at home, work or with the police and criminal justice system.