Why this matters
We are exploring how well mental health statistics in the UK are meeting the needs of the user of the statistics. Responsibility for the policy, delivery and funding of mental health services lies with the devolved administrations in each country of the UK. Our first review of mental health statistics focused on England and was published in September 2020. This report is focused on Northern Ireland.
Northern Ireland is reported to have the highest prevalence of mental health problems in the UK. Academic studies and research articles have reported that Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of mental illness in the UK, with psychiatric morbidity in Northern Ireland 25% higher than in the UK. The Youth Wellbeing Prevalence Survey 2020 also reported around 25% higher rates of anxiety and depression in the child and youth population in comparison to other UK nations, reflecting a similar trend in the adult population. The latest official statistics, from the Health Survey (NI) 2019/20, report that around a fifth (19%) of the adult population (aged 16 or over) had a high GHQ12 score indicating a possible mental health problem (18% males; 21% females). Most recent prevalence data 2020/2021 from the QOF (Quality and Outcome Framework) disease registers for mental health and depression also shows a gradual yearly increase in the prevalence rate per 1,000 patients since 2013/14. The legacy of violence and socio-economic factors are frequently cited as key contributors to poor mental health in the Northern Ireland population.
Health is a devolved issue. The responsibility for policy, delivery and funding of health and social care services lies with the Northern Ireland Executive. Encouragingly, with the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive in January 2020, tackling mental health is a key priority area. There is a real push and commitment to improve and transform mental health services for the better.
 The General Health Questionnaire (GHQ) is a screening tool designed to detect the possibility of psychiatric morbidity in the general population.
 This score has remained fairly stable over the last decade, and is used as the lead measure against ‘Improving Mental Health’ ‘indicator 6’ in the Draft Programme for Government (PfG) 2016-2021.
What we hope to achieve
Major transformation of mental health services in Northern Ireland is being proposed. This is supported by the new 10 year Mental Health Strategy, published in June 2021. We want to raise the profile of mental health statistics in Northern Ireland and advocate for high quality statistics in this sector to support delivery of the new strategy.
We want to make the case for more investment in an infrastructure that will support good data and statistics; both human skills and technological resources. To support these aims, alongside this report we will continue to engage with a range of organisations and make the case for short, medium and long term improvements to mental health data and statistics.
Our unique perspective
We regulate official statistics across the UK. Our vision is that statistics will serve the public good, and is underpinned by the three pillars of the Code of Practice for Statistics:
- Trustworthiness – confidence in the people and organisations that produce statistics
- Quality – data and methods that produce assured statistics
- Value – statistics that support society’s needs for information.
Statistics add value when they support society’s need for information. We want to see statistics that provide a robust evidence base for national and local policy development and decision making. We also champion the need for statistics to support a much wider range of uses, including, by charities, community groups and individuals. They should allow individuals and organisations to reach informed decisions, answer important questions, make the case for change or hold government to account.
As an independent regulator, we are in a unique position to take a broader look at issues of importance to society and make the case for improved statistics. This is supported by our ability to convene, influence and highlight best practice from other sectors. We spoke to a wide range of stakeholders, between January and March 2021. Full details can be found in Annex A. In addition, we conducted desk research in order to evidence and support our key findings.
The rest of this report sets out our review’s findings.
- Section 2 provides an overview of the provision of mental health services and data in Northern Ireland.
- Section 3 outlines our detailed findings around the extent to which mental health statistics are currently meeting user needs and includes some short-medium term recommendations.
- Section 4 highlights three strategic areas which need to be addressed to improve statistics in the longer-term.
- Section 5 sets out our conclusions and next steps.
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