Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK's mental health

We all have mental health. Good mental health is an asset that helps us to thrive. This is not just the absence of a mental health problem, but having the ability to think, feel and act in a way that allows us to enjoy life and deal with the challenges it presents. Yet it can be easy to assume that ongoing stress is the price we have to pay to keep our lives on track. It is time to challenge that assumption.

In March 2017, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, NatCen conducted a survey amongst its panel members in England, Scotland and Wales. This aimed to understand the prevalence of self-reported mental health problems, levels of positive and negative mental health in the population, and the actions people take to deal with the stressors in their lives. 2,290 interviews were completed, with 82% online and 18% by phone.

Key findings

  • Only a small minority of people (13%) report living with high levels of good mental health.
  • People over the age of 55 report experiencing better mental health than average.
  • People aged 55 and above are the most likely to take positive steps to help themselves deal better with everyday life - including spending time with friends and family, going for a walk, spending more time on interests, getting enough sleep, eating healthily and learning new things.
  • More than 4 in 10 people say they have experienced depression
  • Over a quarter of people say they have experienced panic attacks.
  • The most notable differences are associated with household income and economic activity - nearly 3 in 4 people living in the lowest household income bracket report having exprienced a mental health problem, compared to 6 in 10 of the highest household income bracket.
  • The great majority (85%) of people out of work have experienced a mental health problem compared to two thirds of people in work and just over half of people who have retired.
  • Nearly two-thirds of people say that they have experienced a mental health problem. This rises to 7 in every 10 women, young adults aged 18-34 and people living alone.

Conclusions

  1. Current levels of good mental health are disturbingly low. The barometer of success of any nation is the health and wellbeing of its people. We have a long way to go before we can say that we are a thriving nation. Although we have made great strides in the health of our bodies and our life expectancy, we now need to achieve the same for the good health of our minds.
  2. The survey suggests that our collective mental health is deteriorating. Overall most of us report experiencing a mental health problem in our lifetime. However, young adults report this at a higher level, despite having had fewer years in their lives to experience this. While there may be an element which reflects a greater ease at acknowledging a mental health problem, nevertheless this suggests a real and emerging problem. It is possible that it is linked to greater insecurities in life expectations for work, relationships and homes. The reasons and solutions warrant investigation.
  3. The figures show that the experience of poor mental health, while touching every age and demographic, is not evenly distributed. If you are female, a young adult, on low income, living alone or in a large household, your risks of facing mental ill health are higher.

Five steps for a mentally thriving UK

  1. A National Thriving Mental Health Programme to spread public understanding about how to look after our mental health and to build community resilience.
  2. A Royal Commission to investigate effective ways to prevent poor mental health and to develop good mental health, and highlighting opportunities to reduce risks.
  3. A Mentally Thriving Nation Report each year to track progress, emerging issues and actions required.
  4. A ‘100% Health’ Check to help people to manage their mental health and reduce their risks as well as identifying where they need professional mental health support.
  5. Fair Funding for Mental Health Research, commensurate with the scale of mental health problems in our society.

More information

Download the NatCen panel technical information

Download the full data tables from the survey

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