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This page is a summary of the full briefing paper, which you can download by clicking the button above. 

How common are mental health problems?

The Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing in England found that 1 in 6 people aged 16+ had experienced symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety, in the past week. Women were more likely than men to be experiencing common mental disorders. Prevalence has increased since 1993.

2% of survey respondents had ever experienced bipolar disorder, while 0.7% had experienced psychotic disorder in the past year. 4.4% of respondents screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder. Just over 5% of survey respondents reported having had suicidal thoughts in the past year. 

The most recent survey was in 2014. A new survey is currently being undertaken.

Two bar charts showing the prevalence of common mental disorders. The left bar chart shows a breakdown by age and sex, showing that prevalence is higher among women than men in all age groups, and also that overall prevalence is higher among those aged 16-64 than in older age groups. The right bar chart shows increases since 1993 broken down by sex.

Depression during the coronavirus pandemic

Monitoring from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that the prevalence of moderate or severe depressive symptoms among adults in Great Britain rose after the start of the pandemic. In surveys taken between July 2019 and March 2020 prevalence was 10%, but this rose to 19% by June 2020 and 21% by January to March 2021. By July to August 2021 the proportion of adults with moderate or severe depressive symptoms had fallen to 17%.

Children’s mental health

2021 survey of children and young people’s mental health found that 17.4% of children aged 6-16 had a probable mental disorder in 2021, up from 11.6% in 2017. Among those aged 17-19, 10.1% had a probably mental disorder in 2017, rising to 17.4% in 2021. Rates remained similar between 2020 and 2021.

Talking therapies for common mental health problems (IAPT)

NHS England’s Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme (IAPT) aims to provide talking therapies for working age people experiencing common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. It aims to treat 75% of people within 6 weeks of referral, to ensure that half of those finishing treatment recover from their condition, and it aims to reach 15% of people with common mental disorders each year. People can be referred by their GP or they can self-refer.

In 2020/21, 1.46 million people were referred to IAPT, 1.02 million entered treatment and 658,000 finished a course of treatment. The number referred fell 15% on 2019/20, likely due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the number finishing treatment increased by 9%. The table below shows the areas in England with the highest referral rate relative to the local population. 

Table showing the areas of England with the lowest and highest IAPT referral rates in 2020/21. Rates were lowest in Warwickshire and Coventry. Rates were highest in Manchester, Salford, Oldham and Bolton.

67.5% of those referred to IAPT were women, and the number of women referred outnumbered men in every local area of England.

Talking therapies are explained in this NHS Choices video.

IAPT Waiting Times

90% of those finishing a course of IAPT treatment in 2020/21 waited less than 6 weeks for their first treatment, which is above the target of 75%. However, average waiting times for first treatment varied substantially across England, from lows of 4 days in Castle Point and Rochford (Essex) to highs of 86 days in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

In most areas of England, patients waited three times as long between their first and second treatments than they waited for their first treatment. The average waiting time for a first treatment was 21 days while the average waiting time between first and second treatment was 53 days. The total waiting time between referral and second treatment varied from a low of 30 days in Brent (London) to 182 days in Bristol, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire.

Two maps showing waiting times for IAPT in England. The left map shows waiting times from referral to first treatment, while the right map shows waiting times from first treatment to second treatment.

IAPT Outcomes

51.4% of those finishing a course of IAPT treatment moved to recovery (meaning that they were no longer classed as having a clinical case of a mental health problem), above the target of 50%. In 2020/21, recovery rates varied from 64% in Stoke-on-Trent to 34% in Brighton and Hove.

Two-thirds of people showed a reliable improvement in their condition after finishing a course of IAPT treatment. Improvement rates varied from 79% in Warwickshire North and West Sussex to 55% in Swindon.

Recovery and improvement rates varied between social groups, with some minority groups less likely to see positive outcomes:

  • People living in more deprived areas were less likely to experience improvement or recovery after IAPT than those living in less deprived areas
  • People with disabilites were less likely to experience improvement or recovery than those without disabilities
  • People identifying as bisexual were less likely to experience improvement after IAPT than people identifying as straight
  • People in Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Mixed and Other ethnic groups were less likely to experience improvement and recovery after IAPT than those identifying as White British, Indian, African or Caribbean.

NHS secondary mental health services

Separate data is published on people who are in contact with NHS-funded secondary mental health, learning disability and autism services. It’s estimated that 2.8 million people were in contact with these services at some point during 2020/21. This is around around 5% of the population, varying from 10.7% of 11-15 year olds and 11.3% of 16-19 year olds to 2.5% of 65-69 year olds. These figures do not include people who are only in contact with IAPT services. 

Access to and contact with mental health services varies across the country. In Hull, 8.9% of the adult population were in contact with adult mental health services during 2020/21. In South Gloucestershire and Mid Suffolk, the figure was 2.8%. 

The cartogram maps below show the percentage of people accessing services in 2020/21 by local authority.

Two cartogram maps showing the Percentage of people in contact with NHS-funded mental health, learning disability and autism services during 2020/21. On this map, local authority areas are approximately scaled in size according to their populations. Areas are grouped by ceremonial counties, conurbations and other recognisable sub-national areas. These groups include unitary authorities (e.g. Nottingham City UA inside the Notts group) and don't all reflect current local government structures.

Most of these mental health services do not (unlike IAPT) have waiting time targets, meaning that data is not available on how long people wait to access them. Consultant-led mental health treatments should be recorded in the standard NHS Referral to Treatment waiting lists data. The NHS is proposing new access and waiting time standards for a range of mental health services.

Funding for mental health services

Most local mental health funding is not ring-fenced, meaning that each local NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) determines its own mental health budget from its overall funding allocation. This means that neither the Government nor NHS England determines exactly how much funding goes to mental health services in local areas.

Spending commitments from the NHS long-term plan also include a “new ring-fenced investment fund worth at least £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24”.

Measuring current spending

NHS England’s Mental Health Dashboard provides a national and local overview of spending on mental health services.

In 2020/21, local CCGs spent £12.1 billion on mental health, learning disability and dementia services in England. This is 14.8% of the total funding allocated to CCGs for health services. NHS England spent a further £2.2 billion on specialised commissioning for mental health services, for a total of £14.3 billion. This figure has risen from £12.0 billion in 2017/18.

The Children’s Commissioner report on mental health contains an analysis of spend on children and young people’s mental health by CCG.

While mental health spending is not ring-fenced, CCGs are expected to meet the ‘mental health investment standard’ (MHIS). This requires increases in local mental health spending to be at least as large, proportionally speaking, as overall increases in local funding. So, if a CCG receives a 5% increase in its funding allocation, it must increase its mental health spending by at least 5% to meet the MHIS.

All CCGs met the MHIS in 2020/21. In previous years, 10-20 CCGs did not meet the standard, but it has been met on a national basis each year since its introduction in 2015/16.

The mental health investment standard only measures changes in spending and provides no assessment of whether spending is adequate relative to local needs and demand for services. 

Where to find data on mental health services in the UK

Because health is a devolved policy area, data is collected and published separately for each UK nation. The links below provide a selection of sources for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. 




Northern Ireland

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