Attitudes towards mental health have changed in recent years. Mental health, which was often stigmatised and not discussed openly, is receiving increasing public, media and government attention as an important public health issue. There is a greater awareness that mental health is something we all have and, just like physical health, it can sometimes be good and sometimes be poor.

Our review of mental health statistics in England, carried out before the Covid-19 pandemic, explores why good statistics in this area are important, but is not intended to provide specific guidance on statistics directly related to the effects of the pandemic. We hope however, that sharing our findings on the strengths and weaknesses of mental health statistics, along with highlighting specific recommendations for improvements, will help inform decisions in the statistical sector both in the immediate term and going forward.

Our research for this review focused on answering the following two questions:

  • is the mental health statistical system publishing the information required to provide individuals, service providers and policy makers with a comprehensive picture on mental health?
  • do the existing statistics help answer the key questions about mental health in society today?

We spoke to a wide range of statistics users across different areas of society. They told us of their need for high quality statistics which are able to answer a broad range of questions. Users told us that the existing statistics did not paint a full enough picture of individuals and their conditions, and that producers should be taking greater steps to maximise the insight from existing statistics. In some areas they wanted to know more than the current statistics were able to tell them.

We heard that there is a need for improved quality across the datasets underlying many mental health statistics. Users told us that mental health statistics should be more accessible, both in terms of finding relevant publications and in relation to producers making publications easy to read and explaining clearly the limitations of the statistics. In addition to this, they spoke of their frustrations that some surveys were not carried out as often as they would like, as well as challenges around obtaining data for secondary analysis purposes.

Our research identified that, although the existing mental health statistics go some way to meeting user’s needs, there is much more that can be done.

Our recommendations:

  1. Statistics producers and organisations should exploit the value of the statistics through better data, greater analysis and linking data.
  2. We want to see continued activity to improve the quality of underlying statistics datasets, as well as clear communication with users about quality issues.
  3. We want to see clearer leadership and greater collaboration across producers of mental health statistics.
  4. Access to NHS Digital data needs to improve.

We understand that addressing these issues may not currently be a priority for statistics producers due to the COVID-19 situation, however we expect statistics producers to work collaboratively towards delivering these recommendations when they are able to do so.