Tackling mental health problems in the UK

Each year 1 in 4 people in the UK are said to experience a mental health problem - according to the NHS Information Centre on health and social care. 

This can have big implications for themselves, their families, their employers, the NHS and society - particularly as Mental Health tends to be a Cinderella service within the NHS, meaning the support needed may not always be readily available.  

Some of the challenges

Reducing the risk of mental ill health is a challenge, probably a bigger challenge than reducing the risk of physical ill health. For example, mental ill health often starts earlier in life, so there's less time to take preventative action.

Also, most people know what they can do to reduce the risk of physical illness - like not smoking, limiting their alcohol consumption, eating healthy food and getting enough exercise (even if they don't always act on what they know).  

However, how many people know what can be done to reduce the risk of mental illness? So, that's a gap we have been working to fill through three research projects.  

Our research

Our Mental Health research team has reviewed research into some of the most serious mental illnesses (like anorexia, bipolar disorder, personality disorder, schizophrenia and severe depression) to identify what can be done to reduce the risks.  

Meanwhile mental health has been part of our Health at Work research team’s remit. Most of us spend a large part of our waking hours at work. So if ways can be found to make that time more positive for our mental and physical health that will be a positive step forward.  

We're also now researching why levels of reported mental distress appear to have risen significantly among university students, what is causing this and how the trend can be reversed.

Where action can make a difference

Our Mental Health research team has found increasing evidence that what happens to us in the earliest years of life can influence our mental health for years to come. So, greater support for new parents, particularly those most at risk, could prove particularly helpful. Yopu can see more in our review of existing research, published in Perspectives in Public Health in May.

Our Health at Work research team has prepared a checklist for employers, identifying action which should improve both physical and mental health. You can find this in our Action by Employers section. 

Our Student Mental Health research team is continuing its research. One promising line of enquiry is what happens to young people BEFORE they go to university. In the largest study of its kind in the UK, researchers found 81% of university students reporting a range of mental, emotional and behavioural problems had first experienced symptoms while still at secondary school. Our research suggests changes in parenting and the advent of soclal media may be particularly relevant here and may suggest where action could make a difference.