More than four people a week are being referred for hypochondriac treatment in the North East as experts blame social media for increasing levels of anxiety.
For the first time NHS figures have revealed the number of people receiving referrals and treatment for the mental illness where constant worrying about health consumes one’s life.
Last year in the Newcastle area 285 patients were prescribed treatment for hypochondria and of this number 280 people started therapy.
The region is split into six Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) which are responsible for providing treatment for hypochondria which involves cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness.
North Tyneside CCG and Sunderland CCG had the highest number of referrals last year with 75 patients recommended treatment.
South Tyneside CCG had the fewest referrals in the region with only 20 prescribed therapy.
Experts have warned that hypochondria is being driven by the rise of social media and the internet.
The NHS has said that symptoms of hypochondria include obsessively looking at health information, which has become more accessible with search engines such as Google.
Dr Kasia Szymanska, a registered psychologist and BABCP accredited psychotherapist, said: “Social media can have both a positive and negative impact on health anxiety or hypochondria.
“On the positive side access to the internet allows individuals to learn more about different mental health problems, even normalise their symptoms and as result they may go to see their GP to seek treatment.
“On the negative side people often Google possible symptoms and then start to worry about having symptoms or believe what they read, for example that headaches are caused by brain tumours.
“A person with health anxiety can misinterpret sensations as a sign of something terrible.
“The key point here is the misinterpretation can lead to excessive worrying and checking behaviour.
“There are lots of reasons why people develop health anxiety, it maybe that someone in their family is anxious about their health or that a family member or friend has recently died or fallen ill, so understandably they start to worry about their own health.
“The treatment is cognitive behavioural therapy which is a widely available short term therapy both via the NHS and privately in which individuals learn new strategies to reduce and manage their symptoms.”
Across England, 22 referrals a day were made for people with hypochondria in 2017/18, a total of 8,132 in the year.
Some 7,891 people started treatment within the year, and the average treatment length was eight weeks.
Here are the full figures for the North East area.
NORTH DURHAM CCG // 55 // 50 // 30
NORTHUMBERLAND CCG // * // * // 10
SOUTH TYNESIDE CCG // 20 // 25 // 25
SUNDERLAND CCG // 75 // 70 // 45
NEWCASTLE GATESHEAD CCG // 60 // 60 // 40
NORTH TYNESIDE CCG // 75 // 75 // 35