Mental Well-being

Mental Well-being

The recent blog “Are we facing a mental health pandemic?” by Tim Vizard and Theo Joloza which can be found here, is very important in emphasising the value of the ONS’s survey research program as a source for more insightful information than is available from purely administrative data. The blog introduces two new data sources providing evidence of the nation’s mental health. The first is derived from analysis of GP’s consultations and shows a decline of 24% in the number of diagnoses of depression from 2019 to 2020 with the second source from NHS Digital showing an astonishing 57% reduction in referrals to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) in April 2020 compared with April 2019.

The fact is, however, that a significant part of the public’s concern to save the NHS was exemplified by not troubling their GP unnecessarily, leading to a 30% decrease in consultations. As a result, diagnosis of depression as a proportion of the consultations in 2020 increased over the proportion in 2019. This hint that mental well-being might have been a larger problem in 2020 than in 2019 has been emphatically evidenced by the ONS finding that an estimated one in five adults said they experienced some form of depression during the coronavirus pandemic, double the pre-pandemic rate. Although the blog does not mention the source for this startling increase, from a review of the ONS website, we believe it is derived from the regular Opinions and Lifestyle Survey.

Meanwhile, preliminary indications from the current research on well-being by Better Statistics CIC, shows an increase in unhappiness linked to living alone and having contact with few friends and family. This unsurprising result, almost certainly induced by the experience of the pandemic, possibly indicates an important shift in emphasis on key issues affecting perceptions of well-being, with purely economic factors such as employment having slightly less overall effect compared with other lifestyle characteristics.

These differences possibly highlight two important considerations for those seeking to introduce aspects of ‘well-being’ into some measure to replace or enhance GDP. They are:

  • The search for a standard International measure or measures of well-being, will be extremely difficult because of the profound cultural differences between societies.
  • It is also the case that measures of well-being derived from survey research will be susceptible to change resulting from changing circumstances.
  • The implications of these observations are such as to encourage the most rigorous application of Occam’s razor to any measure under consideration. Particularly as we consider the realities of global warming and the need to adjust our economies to counter the effects of climate change.

– by Tony Dent, Director Better Statistics CIC