talking therapiesMore than 1 in 3 (37%) adults aged 16-74 in England with common mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety were accessing treatment in 2014, new figures have found.

The results of the Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing show that this figure has increased from 1 in 4 people (24%) since the last survey was carried out in 2007. Overall, 17% of adults surveyed in England met the criteria for a common mental disorder (CMD) in 2014.

The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey - Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014 provides statistics on the prevalence of treated and untreated psychiatric conditions among adults aged 16 and over in England.  

The survey was carried out for NHS Digital by the National Centre for Social Research in collaboration with the University of Leicester. It provides context for understanding mental health and supports clinical research and funding by examining the prevalence of mental health conditions and behaviours and how they vary by factors such as gender, age, ethnic group and marital status.

Women were more likely than men to have reported CMD symptoms: 19% compared with 12% of men. Women were also more likely than men to report severe symptoms of CMD – 10% of women reported severe symptoms compared to 6% of men.

Meanwhile, the gap in reported rates of CMD symptoms between young men and women has increased since the first time the survey was carried out. In 1993, 19% of 16 to 24-year-old women surveyed reported symptoms of CMD compared to 8% of men of the same age. In 2014, CMD symptoms were almost three times as commonly reported by women of that age range (26%) than men (9%).

Medication was the most common form of mental health treatment for all conditions assessed within the survey and 10% of all people interviewed reported taking it. Just 3% reported receiving psychological therapy. Medication was more common than psychological therapy in those with current symptoms of CMD (31% with medication and 12% with therapies) and in those without current symptoms (6% with medication and 1% with therapies).

The proportion of people reporting severe CMD symptoms who have been accessing psychological therapy continued its upward trend, from 13% in 2000 to 15% in 2007 and 18% in 2014.

NHS Digital’s report is the latest in a series of surveys that took place previously in 1993, 2000 and 2007. It includes mental health data which are not collected anywhere else.

In addition, the report included data on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), with 31% of adults reported having experienced at least one traumatic event.

Among women, the likelihood of screening positive for PTSD was high among 16 to 24-year-olds (13%) and then declined with age. In men, the rate remained relatively consistent for age groups between 16 and 64 – between 4 and 5% for these age groups – only declining in much later life.

Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self-harm was also surveyed, with 21% of adults saying that they had thought of taking their own life at some point. 

Meanwhile, the proportion of the population who reported having self-harmed has increased from 2% in 2000 to 4% in 2007 and 6% in 2014. This increase is evident in men and women and across age groups. 

One in 4 16 to 24-year-old women (26%) surveyed had self-harmed, more than twice the rate than in young men (10%). This mostly took the form of self-cutting. 

Additionally, bipolar disorder was included in the survey for the first time. Overall 2% of those surveyed screened positive for bipolar, with similar rates of around 2% for men and women.

Positive screening for bipolar was more common in younger age-groups, with 3% of 16 to 24-year-olds screened positive compared with less than 1% of those aged 65 to 74. None of the participants aged 75 and over screened positive for bipolar. These were small numbers of individuals and the rates for specific age groups in the overall population may vary from these, but the overall reduction of rate with age was found to be statistically significant. 

Comorbidity across mental disorders, chronic physical conditions, psychological wellbeing and mental disorder was also surveyed for the first time. The five chronic conditions considered were asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and epilepsy.

There was an association between CMD and chronic physical conditions, with 38% of people with severe CMD symptoms reporting a chronic physical condition, compared to 25% of those with no or few symptoms of CMD. This association was evident for each of the chronic conditions examined. For example, people surveyed with severe symptoms of CMD were twice as likely to have asthma (15%) as people with no or few symptoms (7%).

Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, welcomed the survey and its findings. “It provides an incredibly valuable overview of the prevalence of psychiatric morbidity as well as rates of access to mental health services. It will be fundamental for driving change for future practice and policy developments and will enable us to examine trends and identify emerging high-risk groups.

“It is reassuring that the prevalence of common mental disorders and severe mental illnesses has not gone up since 2007 – but the increased rate of mental illness amongst young women, adults in mid-life and ethnic minorities is concerning. 

“We echo the call for more investment in mental health services and research. There really is no other response. We need to step back and consider what social and cultural factors might be behind these trends, but with just one in three people with a mental illness receiving treatment, the need for mental health services is far outstripped by the demand.”

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, also welcomed the report. “Nothing has improved when it comes to the prevalence of mental health problems in England,” he said. “It’s also particularly concerning to see the amount of women experiencing common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, has risen. It’s shocking that a quarter of young women have been self-harming, and a fifth of adults have felt suicidal.

“It’s difficult to know the exact reasons behind these changes and they are likely to be due to a huge combination of factors. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this could be an indication that more people are coming forward if and when they are concerned about their own mental health, and that GPs and other health professionals are quickly recognising symptoms and prescribing relevant treatments and services where necessary. 

“It’s good to see that the proportion of people accessing mental health services has increased to one in three adults, however this is only for those with common mental health problems. It’s still clear that nowhere near enough people are getting the support they need – in fact, more people than not are getting no treatment at all. We want to see everyone experiencing a mental health problem being able to access the treatments and services they need, when they need them. We still have a long way to go before our mental health is treated as equally important to our physical health. These data make it clear to the government that when it comes to the nation’s mental health, the time to act is now.”

Read the full report here.