Rates of common mental health problems have only risen slightly in the last 15 years according to a new UK study

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Researchers from the University of Leicester, UCL (University College London) and King’s College London have published a study in the British Journal of Psychiatry that appears to contradict the spate of recent news stories that the prevalence of mental disorder is on the rise.

The researchers used data from three British Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys, carried out in 1993, 2000 and 2007, to monitor changes in the rates of mental health disorders in England over a 15 year period. There were 8,670 survey participants in 1993, 6,977 participants in 2000 and 6,815 participants in 2007.

Rates of common mental health disorders in women:

  • 18.1% in 1993
  • 18.5% in 2000
  • 18.9% in 2007

Rates of common mental health disorders in men:

  • 10.9% in 1993
  • 12.6% in 2000
  • 11.8% in 2007

Sleep problems among women:

  • 28.4% in 1993
  • 34.7% in 2000
  • 36.7% in 2007

Professor Brugha from the research team concluded:

Overall, we found little evidence that the prevalence of common mental disorder, which includes depression and anxiety disorders, is increasing in England. Our finding of stable rates contradicts popular media stories of a relentlessly rising tide of mental illness.

Spiers N, Bebbington P, McManus S, Brugha TS, Jenkins R and Meltzer H. Age and birth cohort differences in the prevalence of common mental disorder in England: the National Psychiatric Morbidity Surveys, 1993-2007. British Journal of Psychiatry 2011; 198: 479-48. [Abstract]

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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