Mental health and wellbeing in data

Poverty in Data Impact event - April 23-25

We invite researchers from all sectors who work in the area of poverty to join us for the UK Data Service 2024 impact event, Poverty in Data. Find out more information and register here.

The mental health situation in the UK, and around the world, is one that is of serious cause for concern. Young people especially are reported as feeling more depressed, lonely and anxious than ever before. Covid-19 has also had a significant impact on mental health, especially of young people, as one of our Data Impact fellows, Naomi Miall, shared in a Data Impact blog post.

The availability of timely and accurate data is essential for researchers, medical practitioners and other support groups to understand the landscape of mental health broadly as well as more specific issues.

We are drawing together, making connections and sharing examples of how the data in our collection is underpinning these efforts to make a difference. This forms an important part of our developing impact approach.

This page will be updated regularly with new findings about mental health and wellbeing in data. We will also continue to work with partners to create posts for our Data Impact blog, along with case studies. If you would like to work with us, please get in touch.

There are many datasets that can give insights into mental health, wellbeing, and related issues. One case study, from 2014, highlights the use of Millennium Cohort Study and Understanding Society in looking at what factors can help predict levels of wellbeing.

We have also collaborated with the researchers behind the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures on a number of blog posts. This includes an overview of the catalogue, an update looking at its usage and a summary of the related “Landscaping International Longitudinal Datasets” project.

One of the major areas of concern when looking at mental health is children and teenagers. Research in this area covers a wide range of topics and focusses. Social media is one aspect of the academic and public discourse around mental health in young people, and Professor Liz Twigg discussed this topic for us in a Data Impact blog post. In the connected area of screen time Cara L Booker shared a case study of her work on this area back in 2015, and whilst much more study and learning has happened since then, the results of her work are still relevant, and perhaps more so now.

Discussions around the impact of children’s mental health and longer-term effects and impacts is also an important area of research. Research has shown that many mental health conditions start at age 14, and that children who suffer from psychological distress are more likely to become unemployed.

The role and impact parents can have on the mental health of their children is a vital area to consider as well. Whether children suffer the effects of parental separation in adult life and the impact of welfare benefit claiming on the children of single mothers are topics that we have highlighted both recently and in years past.

The relationship between income inequality between friends and adolescents mental health is an angle presented by Blanca Piera Pi-Sunyer in her research. This study again shows the vital role that longitudinal studies like the Millennium Cohort Study play in these areas of research.

It’s not just young people who can suffer from mental health issues, loneliness or anxiety. Another significant area of research in the area is looking at those in later life. As the population of the UK, like many other Western countries, gets older, this will become a more significant focus area for support and interventions.

Studies like the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing can give insight into how enjoying later life can be linked to living longer and the impact of social isolation and loneliness on mortality in older people. Household surveys like Understanding Society and the British Household Panel Survey can also give insight into this topic as discussed case studies. One from researchers in Washington and Thailand looked at the role of gender and personality on retirees’ wellbeing. Another from David Hayes at the University of Bristol used Understanding Society and the Living Costs and Food Survey to look at mental wellbeing and financial management in older people.

One of our Data Impact Fellows, Dharmi Kapadia, also shared during her fellowship about her work looking at the extent and changing nature of ethnic inequalities in older people’s mental and physical health over the last 20 years in the UK.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to a significant shift in work for many people, with remote and homeworking becoming the norm almost overnight. Remote, flexible and hybrid working arrangements have continued for many. Charlotte Booth reflected on this and the role that the shift to home-working had on people’s mental health.

Previous case studies have also looked at the role economic migration has on happiness and the effect of economic isolation on employment and wellbeing for women.

Alongside work and finances, housing, physical health, arts and the outdoors also all have the potential to impact people’s mental health and wellbeing. Ivy Shiue, from the University of Northumbria, shared about the role gardening can have in people’s mental health. William Holy-Hasted, a winner of our annual Dissertation award, looked at the role that urban public space can have on wellbeing in London. Rachel McCrea from University College London looked at whether BMI reflects the chances of people experiencing common mental disorders.

Using Understanding Society, researchers looked at the way engaging with arts, culture and sports can lead to greater satisfaction with life. A more recent piece of work using Understanding Society came from Amy Clair and Emma Baker at the University of Adelaide. They looked into how cold homes area clear risk to mental health, not just physical health.  

Naomi Miall, one of our Data Impact Fellows, discusses her research looking at child mental health in the wake of COVID-19.

Dr Liming Li, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at King’s College London, shares about her recent research into welfare benefits, single mothers and the impact on children’s mental health.

Ioannis Katsantonis, a PhD candidate in Psychology and Education at the University of Cambridge, shares his research on the role parent-child interactions have on children’s mental health.