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How common are mental health problems?

How common are mental health problems? The Mental Health Foundation discusses the prevalence in adults, and children and young people in the UK.

Try to maintain critical thinking when engaging with research, particularly in relation to the prevalence of mental health problems.

How common are mental health problems in adults?

  • It is estimated that two in three people in the UK will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives [1].
  • Anxiety and depression are the two most prevalent mental health problems across the life course, with around one in ten people affected at any one time [2].
  • Women (19%) are more likely than men (12%) to report symptoms of a mental health problem, including more severe symptoms [2].
  • Men are at least three times as vulnerable to death from suicide as women [3].
  • Almost seven in ten women and six in ten men with diagnosable mental health problems are parents [4].
  • One to two people in every 100 will experience mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia [5].
  • Research suggests that the wider cost of mental healthcare to the UK economy, taking into account the reduced quality of life, is over £118 billion each year [6].

Despite their prevalence, mental health problems are still shrouded in stigma and misinformation for many people in the UK, particularly when connected with factors like gender, age, and culture. This can contribute to implicit biases and result in people underreporting symptoms or diagnoses. It is, therefore, important to recognise that research relying on self-reports may not always present an accurate picture.

How common are mental health problems in children and young people?

The importance of early intervention and prevention becomes apparent when we reflect on the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people, particularly since the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.

  • It is estimated that half of all adult mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and three quarters by the age of 24 [7].
  • In 2018, the NHS reported that one in eight young people (aged 5-19) had a diagnosable mental health condition [8].
  • This figure rose to one in six after the first year of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 [9].

These statistics reveal the importance of childhood and adolescent life stages in the formation and development of mental health problems. Early intervention can reduce the likelihood of children and young people reaching crisis points and developing mental health problems later in life.


[1] MHF. Surviving or thriving? The state of the UK’s mental health. 2017.

[2] Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey: Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, England, 2014.

[3] ONS. Who is most at risk of suicide? Analysis and explanation of the contributory risks of suicide. 2017.

[4] RC Psychs. Parental mental illness: the impact on children and adolescents: for parents and carers.

[5] MHF. What are mental health problems?

[6] McDaid, D. and Park, A-La. The economic case for investing in the prevention of mental health conditions in the UK. 2022.

[7] Kessler, RC. et al. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. 2005.

[8] NHS Digital. One in eight of five to 19 year olds had a mental disorder in 2017 major new survey finds. 2018.

[9] Sandler, K. et al. Mental Health of Children and Young People. 2020.

Reflect on what you have learned during this step.

Has anything surprised you?

Consider the factors that may impact how children and young people report body image concerns. In what ways could this affect your ability to provide support?

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Body Image and Mental Health in Young People

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