Key points

  • At 16%, the proportion of working-age people who are deemed to be at a high risk of developing a mental illness is similar to a decade ago.
  • Women are more at risk than men, by an average of around 4 percentage points.
  • Adults in the poorest fifth are much more likely to be at risk of developing a mental illness as those on average incomes: around 24% compared with 14%.
  • People from manual backgrounds are at somewhat higher risk of developing a mental illness than those from non-manual backgrounds.
  • The risk of mental illness is similar across all the regions in England, except for Yorkshire & The Humber (where it is lower).

Why this indicator was originally chosen

Depression is one of the most common forms of mental illness.  Its effects can spread into all dimensions of a person’s life including their work, home and social environments.  Possible triggers identified for development of this illness include unemployment, redundancy or the threat of it, and financial difficulties. 1  A poor working environment and social isolation are also factors which heighten the risk of depressive illness.

The chosen indicator of mental health shows those classified as being at high risk of developing mental illness, where this proportion differs substantially by level of household income.

Definitions and data sources

The first graph shows the proportion of people aged 16 to retirement who are classified as being at high risk of developing a mental illness, with the data shown separately for men and women.  A high risk of mental illness is determined by asking informants a number of questions about general levels of happiness, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbance over the previous four weeks, which are designed to detect possible psychiatric morbidity.  A score is constructed from the responses, and the figures published show those with a score of 4 or more.  This is referred to as a ‘high GHQ12 score’.   ‘Working-age people’ is defined as everyone aged between 16 and 59/64.

The second graph show the same information but in terms of absolute numbers rather than proportions of the population.  ONS population estimates have been used to derive the numbers from the proportions.

The third graph shows how the proportions vary by household income, with the data shown separately for men and women.  The allocation of households to income quintiles uses gross ‘equivalised household income’, which means that the household incomes have been adjusted to put them on a like-for-like basis given the size and composition of the households.

The fourth graph shows how the proportions vary between social classes, again with the data shown separately for men and women.

The fifth graph shows how the proportions vary by region, with the data shown for men and women combined.

The data source for all the graphs is the Health Survey for England (HSE) and relates to England only.  Note that the relevant questions were not asked in the 2007 survey so the the data in the third to fifth graphs has been averaged over 2008 and 2009 only.  Also note that the data from 2003 onwards is weighted, whereas the earlier data is unweighted.

Overall adequacy of the indicator: medium.   Whilst the HSE is a large survey which is designed to be representative of the population in England as a whole, the data only allows a partial analysis of mental health.

Relevant 2007 Public Service Agreements

None directly relevant.

The numbers

Graph 1 and 2

Year High risk of psychiatric disorder
% Numbers (millions)
Men Women Men Women
1994 13% 20% 1.9M 2.8M
1995 14% 21% 2.2M 3.0M
1996no data no data no data no data
1997 13% 20% 1.9M 2.9M
1998 13% 19% 1.9M 2.8M
1999 15% 20% 2.3M 2.8M
2000 12% 17% 1.9M 2.5M
2001 11% 16% 1.7M 2.4M
2002 14% 19% 2.2M 2.9M
2003 12% 15% 1.9M 2.2M
2004 11% 15% 1.8M 2.3M
200511% 16% 1.7M 2.4M
200611% 15% 1.8M 2.3M
2007no data no data no data no data
200811% 15% 1.8M 2.3M
200915% 17% 2.6M 2.7M

Graph 3

Income quintile Men Women
Poorest fifth 23% 25%
2nd 17% 21%
3rd 12% 16%
4th 10% 15%
richest fifth 9% 10%

Graph 4

Gender Social classes I-IIINM Social classes IIIM-V
Men 11% 15%
Women 15% 18%

Graphs 5

Region Total
East 15%
East Midlands 15%
London 16%
North East 14%
North West 17%
South East 14%
South West 14%
West Midlands 17%
Yorkshire and The Humber 12%

1. Depression Alliance, ‘Introduction’ booklet for the alliance, 1995, page 10.