Positive wellbeing can help protect against the development of mental health problems

For too long, economic benchmarks such as GDP and limited health measures such as life-expectancy have been used to assess quality of life in the UK, ignoring the fact that being richer or living longer are often poor indicators of personal happiness and wellbeing.

The Foundation therefore welcomes the publication of the final domains and headline measures which will be used by the Office of National Statistics to measure national wellbeing.

Measuring wellbeing is important because we know that positive wellbeing influences a whole range of outcomes for individuals and communities, not least protecting against the development of mental health problems. We also know that measuring wellbeing is critical to identifying the success of initiatives addressing income and health inequalities.

It is therefore important that wellbeing indicators are practical, linked to robust data sources, and mainstreamed into routine data collection. It is important that the exercise allows us to analyse the data produced by the survey at a sophisticated level, allowing the wellbeing of different age groups and communities to be explored and compared in order to gain a better understanding of the factors that contribute to positive wellbeing.

Done effectively, the data collected will also be of significant benefit in assessing the impact at community level of national and local policies relating to, among other things, public health, mental health, housing, employment, the economy, the arts, education and the environment – all of which contribute fundamentally to the quality of life of over 60 million UK citizens.

We are particularly pleased to see the inclusion of domains relating to subjective wellbeing in the ONS wellbeing measures. Measuring subjective wellbeing allows us to find out what people actually think about their lives, rather than only focusing on objective measures such as income and health, giving us a far more comprehensive picture of the factors that contribute to an individual’s sense of wellbeing.

It is disappointing that some commentators in the media have chosen to that portray the exercise as a pointless, gimmicky “happiness survey”. Wellbeing and happiness are not the same thing, although they are sometimes used interchangeably.

What we are interested in is overall wellbeing, which the Government has described as a positive physical, social and mental state. This project is about building a sense of long-term wellbeing in individuals and communities that improves quality of life for all citizens across the UK, as well as reducing the risk of developing mental health problems.

This is particularly crucial in the light of the economic and social costs of mental health problems in England, which are estimated to be around £105billion each year (Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Promotion and Mental Illness Prevention: the Economic Case, 2011).