For years the one-in-four statistic has been quoted by everyone from mental health charities to government ministers, but how much do we really know about where these figures come from? There has actually never been any research which looks into the overall lifetime rates of mental illness in Britain meaning there is no concrete evidence that this figure is correct.
American sociologists Allan Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield argue that these figures are likely to be a reflection of discrepancies in the diagnostic criteria used to define ‘mental illness’. For instance the most widely used criteria determines clinical depression as two or more weeks during which you experience five or more symptoms from a list of nine, such as decreased motivation and difficulty sleeping. However, the criteria doesn’t really take into account the reasons you may be feeling that way, such as grief.
This means that if you are feeling temporarily down or stressed you could be classed as ‘depressed’ even though you could be experiencing a normal emotional response.
This by no means indicates that mental illnesses don’t exist and in many cases they are serious diseases which require treatment. It does however mean that we are unsure of how common these diseases are due to the broadness of the research.
Jamie Horder, who researched and wrote the original article for The Guardian, concluded with an important message.
“People who experience mental illness often face stigma and discrimination, and it’s right to oppose this. But stigma is wrong whether the rate of mental illness is one in four, or one in 400. We shouldn’t need statistics to remind us that mental illness happens to real people.”