Health anxiety can be more destructive than illness itself

Statistics show that one to two per cent of the population has an irrational fear of being seriously ill - and this figure is set to rise. A major implication of this condition, called pathological health anxiety, is that both money and time could be wasted within the NHS that could have been used for patients who have a genuine illness.

Pathological health anxiety (previously known as hypochondria) is a preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness when in actual fact the person is perfectly healthy. It is characterised by the excessive seeking of reassurance from doctors or family members.

As the number of people affected rises, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which aims to change thought patterns and behaviour, has been found to help those with health anxiety. CBT can ease health anxiety and save the NHS money by reducing the need for tests and emergency hospital admissions. But waiting lists for CBT on the NHS can be long in some areas and the therapy is not widespread.

Westfield Health provides an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) including CBT as a standard benefit on its Foresight Healthcare Plan.

FirstAssist, one of the market leaders in the provision of health and wellbeing products and services, provides Westfield’s 24-hour counselling and advice line, which offers policyholders round-the-clock access to specialist teams of qualified and experienced counsellors, lawyers and medical staff, as well as face-to-face counselling and CBT sessions.

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Health anxiety can be more destructive than illness itself
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