How common are mental health problems? (Taken from and


It’s not essential to the program that you read this chapter but I believe it’s important you should know the facts and figures behind mental health problems in the UK.  If anything else it will give you comfort knowing the conditions below are extremely common and not something you should feel alone or ashamed of.

The term mental health covers an extremely broad and complex spectrum of emotional and psychological issues. From panic attacks right through to bulimia nervosa and post natal depression, everyone is affected by life's twists and turns in an entirely different way.

Every year millions of individuals will have their lives disrupted by mental health problems.

The facts below are a compilation of various information, facts and figures which offer an insight and understanding into some of the key mental health issues many of us are facing today.

  1. The 1 in 4 statistic
  2. Common mental health problems
  3. Individual conditions
  4. Understanding the numbers

1.  The 1 in 4 statistic

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year.

This is the most commonly quoted statistic, and the one which has the most research evidence to support it. It came initially from a large scale study published first in 1980, then updated again 1992. This figure is further supported by the results of all three Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys.

The breakdown below gives an overview of what treatment those who experience mental health problems are likely to seek and get:

  • around 300 people out of 1,000 will experience mental health problems every year in Britain
  • 230 of these will visit a GP
  • 102 of these will be diagnosed as having a mental health problem
  • 24 of these will be referred to a specialist psychiatric service
  • 6 will become inpatients in psychiatric hospitals.

2. Prevalence of common mental health problems

Common mental health problems

This chart below shows the prevalence of common mental health problems since 1993.  

 mental health figures         

Note:People may have more than one type of common mental disorder, so the percentage with any disorder is not the sum of those with specific disorders.

3. Individual Conditions

  • Anxiety (including Panic disorder, Phobias & Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
  • Depression (including Bipolar Disorder/Manic Depression & Postnatal depression)
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Eating Disorders
  • Personality Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Sleep Problems
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Anxiety and anxiety-related problems

As it stands, anxiety is the most common form of mental distress in the UK today, with mixed anxiety and depression affecting around 9.2 per cent of the population when last recorded in 2000.

Though there are many different forms and facets of anxiety, when stripped down to the core, the issue usually revolves around an acute fear of something that has happened, occurring once again. A phobia for instance is usually a fear of an object or a situation which stems from a previous bad experience. For example, in an extreme case an individual bitten by a snake may then go onto develop an uncontrollable fear of snakes.

Milder cases of anxiety usually occur when an individual is faced with a certain situation such as giving a speech or
presentation.  Although they will experience anxiety symptoms when faced with that particular event, action or person they are usually able to continue their everyday activities.

In contrast to the above, generalised anxiety disorder is a condition which usually impedes on an individual’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities and is characterised by tension, worry, restlessness, irritability, insomnia and various other symptoms which occur on a daily basis.

Currently estimated to affect around 4.7 per cent of the UK population, generalised anxiety disorder does not stem from one object or situation in particular, but from various different stresses in the home or at work.

Types of anxiety

  • Panic Disorders Characterised by severe panic attacks, over breathing, palpitations and chest pain.  Panic disorder usually stems from extreme anxiety. An estimated seven people out of every 1000 develop a panic disorder at some point and the prevalence among all age groups and sexes is roughly the same.

  • Phobias
  • Around 2.6 per cent of adults in England experience phobias.
  • One study, it is shown that women are twice as likely as men to experience phobias.
  • Other studies show widely differing rates: one author quotes two community surveys - one in Canada, giving a prevalence rate of 7.7 per cent; and another very large US survey, giving a rate of 13.3 per cent.  As mentioned above, a phobia is usually an irrational fear of either on object or situations. A common symptom when faced with a phobia is that of extreme panic, and usually the sufferer will go to great lengths to avoid facing their fear. According to the Office for National Statistics, around 1.9 per cent of British adults experience a phobia of some description, and women are twice as likely to be effected by this problem as men.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Around 1.2 percent of the UK population suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) at any one time. The condition is most commonly distinguished by repetitive behaviours which are aimed at reducing the sufferer's own anxiety. Symptoms may include repetitive hand washing, aversion to odd numbers, switching off and on a light a particular amount of times before leaving a room, or an obsession with cleanliness and organisation. This behaviour stems from a fear of something bad happening if they do not, creating intrusive thoughts, fear and apprehension. Very often these symptoms lead to social alienation and severe emotional distress.

Depression (The Statistics)

  • Depression with anxiety is experienced by 9.7 per cent of people in England, and depression without anxiety by 2.6 per cent.
  • Women have a higher prevalence of mixed anxiety and depressive disorder than men. The ONS (Office for National Statistics) figure for women is 11.8 per cent of the population in England and for men 7.6 per cent.
  • Overall, depression occurs in 1 in 10 adults or 10 per cent of the population in Britain at any one time, according to the ONS, closely matching figures from other studies.
  • Around 1 in 20 people at any one time experience major or ‘clinical’ depression

What is Depression?

The central symptoms of depression tend to be depressed mood and/or a loss of pleasure in activities that you once enjoyed. There are various forms of depression, ranging from bipolar disorder through to post natal depression.  The severity of symptoms and the extent to which an individual is unable to function will vary from person to person.

Prevalence of treatment for depression and anxiety among adults

In 1996 the number of adults aged between 16 and 64 receiving drug treatment for depression or anxiety was an estimated 44 per 1000 men and 101 per 1000 women. Unfortunately, no evidence exists to which these figures are directly comparable, although the 2000 Office for National Statistics report does provide some similar data. In this survey it was found that in 1993, 123 men per every 1000 and 195 women per every 1000 were suffering from neurotic disorders (including anxiety and depression) with around nine percent of those receiving drug treatment.

The difference in the study results could be attributed to study variations, for example the ONS study only took into account drug treatment at the time of the study, as opposed to during the past 12 months.

Though all studies provide varying results, what they all seem to agree on is the fact that the percentage of people being treated for depression and anxiety has risen during the past decade. Experts are unsure whether the increase is in fact a true increase in the prevalence of these disorders, or if it is due to a rise in the number of GP prescriptions of antidepressant drugs (which are now better tolerated by patients,) combined with more publicity and an increased awareness in popular media.

The stigma of mental health

During the past decade many initiatives and schemes have been introduced and piloted in a bid to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of depression amongst both the public and health care professionals. Notably the Royal College of General Practitioners 'Defeat Depression' initiative and numerous campaigns from both UK mental health charity Mind, and the Mental Health Foundation among others have all played a part in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health, thus giving many individuals the confidence to come forward and seek help.

Depression in children

Figures concerning this matter tend to differ from study to study, though the Royal College of Psychiatrists 2005 fact-sheet on depression in children and young people estimate that around one in every 200 children under the age of 12 and two to three in every 100 teenagers suffer from depression.

Types of depression:

Bipolar disorder (Manic Depression)

  • Most studies give a lifetime prevalence of 1-2 per cent for bipolar disorder and equal prevalence rates for men and women.
  • However, hospital admission rates are much higher owing to the recurrent nature of the illness.
  • It is estimated that 20 per cent of people who have a first episode of manic depression do not get another.   Bipolar disorder or manic depression as it is sometimes known, is characterised by the sufferer experiencing moods at either pole, one end of the spectrum being extreme highs (known as manias) and the other being intense lows.  The majority of studies estimate a lifetime prevalence rate of between one and two percent with the disorder occurring equally in both males and females.  Individuals who have already experienced an episode of bipolar do stand a higher chance of relapsing, but around 20 per cent of those who recover from their first episode will not have another.

Postnatal depression

  • The most common form of postnatal disturbance is the ‘baby blues’ which is said to be experienced by at least half of all mothers in the western world.
  • However, different studies suggest different figures for the number of women affected by ‘baby blues’ and estimates vary between 15 and 85 percent.
  • Baby blues usually lasts for a few hours or a few days.  The condition is so common that it is considered normal.
  • Some women have a much more severe change in mood after the birth of their child and may be assessed as experiencing postnatal depression (PND). A number of studies indicate that 10-15 per cent of new mothers will experience PND. 
  • Puerperal psychosis is a severe and relatively rare form of postnatal depression affecting between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent of all new mothers.

Postnatal depression can set in at any point from up to two weeks after birth to two years after birth. The condition causes the sufferer to develop an indifference to their baby and they are often rendered unable to cope with the demands of caring for their new child.

Though the condition does occur in men, it is far more common among women and thus more statistics and studies have been conducted on it's prevalence among new mothers. A number of studies indicate that between 10 and 15 per cent or one in seven to ten mothers will experience postnatal depression, experiencing symptoms which are similar to those of general depression, and will usually involve the parent becoming emotionally withdrawn and overwhelmed with feelings of despair and guilt.

Puerperal psychosis is an extremely rare and severe form of postnatal depression, affecting between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent of all new mothers. Symptoms vary, but can include persecutory beliefs about the child, delusions, hallucinations and extreme mood changes. Treatment includes admission to hospital and medication such as antipsychotics and antidepressants.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) 

Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as the Winter Blues, is a recognised medical condition which is estimated to affect around 7 per cent of the British population between September and April.  The condition itself is characterised by bouts of depression, sleep problems, overeating, lethargy, physical complaints and behavioural issues which tend to be triggered by seasonal change and a reduction in daylight hours (particularly during
December, January and February).

There are various levels of SAD and at it's most severe it is seriously disabling and if left untreated can result in an inability to function normally if medical treatment is not sought.  In addition to this, around 17 per cent of individuals in the UK also suffer from a milder form of the condition, which is known as subsyndromal SAD, a condition which brings about similar effects to those mentioned above, but on a less extreme scale.

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

This condition involves a range of psychological symptoms which an individual experiences following on from either witnessing or involvement in a traumatic event such as a serious accident or military combat.

The World Health Organisation describe PTSD as: ' A delayed or protracted response to a stressful event or situation (either short or long-lasting) of an exceptionally threatening or long-lasting nature, which is likely to cause pervasive distress in almost anyone.'

Symptoms may include one or more of the following: flashbacks of the traumatic event, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and information, feeling detached and emotionally numb, unable to express affection, disturbed sleep, irritability, aggressive behaviour and a lack of concentration.

Mental health charity Mind estimate that between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent of the general population are likely to be affected by PTSD at some point during their lives.

Eating disorders (summary of the figures)

Common forms of eating distress:

      • Anorexia nervosa
      • Bulimia nervosa
      • Binge-eating disorder
  • The incidence of anorexia nervosa is around 19 per 100,000 of the population per year for women and 2 per 100,000 per year for men, according to NICE.
  • The prevalence for bulimia nervosa is between 0.5 and 1.0 per cent for young women, suggests NICE.
  • Around 90 per cent of those diagnosed with bulimia are thought to be girls, according to NICE.
  • Beating Eating Disorder (beat) suggests that the prevalence rates for anorexia might be around 1 –2 per cent. For bulimia they suggest a prevalence rate of 1-3 per cent.

Eating distress

There are various forms of eating distress and most are characterised by the sufferer either eating too much or too little for a prolonged period of time, leading to the development of an eating disorder. It is at this stage when food begins to impact an individual in an extremely negative way, often becoming the centre of a sufferer’s life, almost like an addiction.

In the case of anorexia nervosa a sufferer may deny themselves food when they are extremely hungry or in the case of bingeeating disorder a sufferer may purge themselves on a huge amount of food. Either way food becomes an obsession and will be constantly on the mind of the sufferer.

Aside from the physical side effects such as the damage all eating disorders inflict on the body, there is also the mental impact to consider. Often those who suffer with eating distress are going through difficult problems and painful feelings which either trigger the illness, disguise the illness or become side effects.

For example, compulsive eating causes individuals to rely on food for emotional support and/or as a way of masking problems.  The increased food consumption will more often than not lead to considerable weight gain which will ultimately impact confidence and self-esteem.

Prevalence of eating disorders

According to figures from eating disorder charity Beat, an estimated one million people in the UK are affected by an eating disorder each year. There has been a significant rise in eating disorders during recent years and though they can occur in any age and any sex, as many as one women in every 20 will suffer from some form of eating distress in their life with the majority aged between 14 and 25 years old.

Further to this, figures also suggest that one in every hundred women in the UK between the ages of 15 and 30 will experience anorexia nervosa, with the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) reporting the incidence of anorexia nervosa to be around 19 per 100,000 of the population per year for women, and 2 per every 100,000 per year for men.

Despite the majority of eating disorder sufferer's being female an estimated 10 per cent of sufferers are male, with approximately 20 per cent of male sufferers identifying themselves as gay.

Though figures such as these are able to give us a picture of eating disorders in the UK, it is important to note than many cases of eating disorders are either unreported or undiagnosed, and the actual figures are likely to be far higher. beat estimate that there may be as many as 1.5 million people in the UK suffering from some form of eating disorder.

Personality disorders

Common Personality Disorders:

  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Avoidant personality disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive        personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Paranoid  personality disorder
  • Dependent personality disorder
  • Schizoid personality disorder
  • Histrionic personality disorder
  • Schizotypal personality disorder

According to various studies the prevalence of personality disorders in Britain is thought to lie somewhere between 2 and 13 per cent, with the ONS estimating the prevalence rate to be around 5.4 per cent for men and 3.4 per cent for women.

The reason for such a large variance in numerous figures is perhaps related to the fact that the concept of personality disorders is seen as controversial and certain methods of diagnosis are often questioned, with some more commonly applied to women and others more commonly applied to men.

Schizophrenia (Summary of the statistics)

  • Most studies show lifetime prevalence for schizophrenia of just under 1 per cent.
  • ONS suggests a per year prevalence rate of around 5 per 1000 of the population (0.5 per cent).
  • It is estimate that the prevalence at any one time is about 2 per 1000 (0.2 per cent).
  • While prevalence rates are the same for men and women, age and gender together is an important factor: one study shows incidence for men aged 15-24 is twice that for women, whereas for those between 24-35, it is higher among women.  This reflects a common late onset of the illness for women.
  • One estimate suggests that around 37-40 per cent of people diagnosed with psychosis will fit the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia.

An individual suffering with schizophrenia will usually experience a range of symptoms which cause a disturbance in their thoughts, feelings and perceptions. These symptoms may include depression, anxiety, fears, phobias, paranoia, thought disorders, illusions, delusions, hallucinations and anti-social behaviour.

Those suffering from this mental health problem may experience some or all of the above symptoms, but the level of severity will vary a great deal leaving some unable to cope. There has been much controversy over whether schizophrenia has any physiological or biochemical basis or whether it is 'in the mind'. However, the body of research supporting the former is ever growing and evidence suggesting that most individuals with schizophrenia do have biochemical imbalances is continuing to emerge.

Sleep problems

A huge percentage of the population from all walks of life suffer from various forms of sleep problems. Not only are sleep problems and fatigue the most common symptoms of mental distress, affecting around 29 per cent of all adults with a diagnosable mental health condition, but for many individuals they are also a problem in their own right.

If sleep problems persist they should be discussed with a GP who will often refer a patient to a sleep clinic. Counselling may also be appropriate to help the sufferer's and their families understand and deal with problems which may occur.

Common sleep disorders:

  • Night terrors - Night terrors are characterised by a sudden arousal from sleep, usually involving extreme panic, loud screams and movement. Initially, upon waking  an individual may feel confused, disoriented, unresponsive and is often unable to remember what caused them to wake. It is also not uncommon for the sufferer to have slurred speed, to throw objects or to leave the room, all of which they will rarely be able to recall.   The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) estimates a prevalence of between 1 and 6 per cent in children (occurring most frequently in children aged 3-12) and 1 per cent in adults.

  • Nightmare disorder - Nightmare disorder is a condition which causes what are known as dream-anxiety attacks, which are essentially bad dreams with associated anxiety. Sufferers tend to be alert and aware of what is happening when they wake and are able to recall their dreams, it is this factor which differentiates this disorder from night terrors. It is very common for nightmare disorder to be triggered by a previous trauma which is relived through the dreams of the sufferer, a symptom which is often seen among those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.   An estimated 10-50 per cent of children suffer from this disorder and though prevalence among adults is currently unknown, up to 50 per cent of adults report occasional nightmares.

  • Sleepwalking - Sleepwalking involves a sleeping/unaware individual performing automatic behaviour such as walking and or other various functions such as wandering around the house or inside the house, looking inside cupboards, preparing and eating food etc. Sufferer's may talk and will often awake confused. The condition tends to worsen with sleep deprivation and is often a sign of a minor anxiety.       Recurrent sleepwalking affects around 5 per cent of children but certain episodes associated with the condition affects up to 30 per cent of children and 7 per cent of adults.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition characterised by a range of behavioural issues associated with poor attention span, and it is thought to effect around 1.7 per cent of the UK population.

Usually the sufferer will experience various symptoms which may include some or all of the following: Attention difficulties e.g. inability to sustain attention and becoming easily distracted, Hyperactivity e.g. running around excessively, noisy play, fidgeting and difficulty engaging in quiet leisure activities, Impulsive actions e.g. failure to wait their turn in group situations and excessive talking without appropriate response to social constraint. In terms of causes there are certain biological factors which are thought to come into play. For example, various studies of twins suggest a genetic link to ADHD, with 80-90 per cent of identical twins both having ADHD.

Environmental factors such as family stress and educational difficulties are also thought to play a part.

4  Understanding the Numbers

The frequency of mental health problems is well documented statistically. However, these figures need to be treated with some caution.  Often widely differing figures will be given for the same mental health problem, making it difficult to determine exactly how common it is. This is partly because these figures are not always measuring the same thing.



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