An online mental heath checker has been launched by NHS Direct in response to rising numbers of people seeking help for depression and anxiety as a result of the recession.

The government’s health advice and information agency reported that 37,500 people telephoned complaining of stress and mental health problems in the first six months of the year.

That is 5,000 more than the previous 12 months, and includes people who had taken an overdose or had suicidal thoughts and depression. More than 5,000 were from London.

Spokeswoman Jacqui Jedrzejewski said: “The mental health checker provides an approachable channel for people to address their problems. The aim is to get people on the right track so that they can get ongoing support.”

The checker allows people to seek help without having to speak to a doctor or nurse, and asks if they are feeling “low, depressed, anxious, panicky, stressed out or under pressure”.

Depending on their answers they will be advised to call 999, visit a GP or speak to an NHS Direct nurse.