Statistics about mental health treatment and services

When it comes to mental health, there are various ways you can seek support and treatment. Some people are referred by their GPs, while others opt for private treatment. The treatments themselves can include talk therapy, medication and lifestyle changes.

The number of people seeking mental health treatment is on the rise and this is having an effect on service availability. On this page we will look at some statistics surrounding mental health services and treatment, including access to services, medication statistics and what the future of mental health services looks like.

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Accessing mental health services

Figures show that more and more people are visiting their GPs with anxiety, stress and other mental health concerns. According to The Aviva Health of the Nation Index (2013), in 2012 a total of 202 GPs reported that 84% of their appointments were attributed to issues with stress and anxiety, with 55% reporting mental health issues.

There is also concern about the occupancy levels at mental health inpatient facilities. The Care Quality Commission found that in 2011-12 16% of wards visited by the Mental Health Act Commissioners were over capacity. About half of the wards were nearly at capacity, with occupancy level of 90% or less.1

With so many facilities running at full capacity, options become limited for those in need. This can lead to accident and emergency departments becoming a go-to for people at risk.

Despite this rising number of people accessing mental health services, there is still a large proportion that is not. For example it is thought that only 65% of people living with psychotic disorders receive treatment.2

The cost of mental illness

With the increase of people experiencing mental health concerns, the financial strain on services is rising. In fact, mental health problems constitute the largest single source of world economic burden. Its estimated global cost is £1.6 trillion greater than cancer, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease and heart disease on their own.3

Mental health services in the UK are overstretched, although public spending is almost entirely focused on coping with this problem. Sadly, investment in mental health prevention is limited. Currently mental health research is only receiving 5.5% of the total UK health research spending (equating to £115 million)4.

Mental health research receives 5.5% of the UK's total health research spending.

Talk therapy statistics

There is a growing range of talk therapies available to those in need. Worryingly however, it appears that not everyone is being offered the full range.

According to the 2014 survey carried out by the We Need to Talk Coalition, out of 2,000 people who tried to access talking therapies in 2014, only 15% were offered the full range recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

In 2008 the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme was launched. Its aim is to improve both the quality and accessibility of mental health treatment, looking primarily at talk therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy.5

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help people manage their problems by examining (and ultimately changing) how they think and behave. The therapy combines a cognitive approach and a behavioural approach to make the link between thoughts and actions.

CBT was revealed to be the most common form of therapy in the IAPT programme. In 2013 - 2014 alone, CBT accounted for 38% of the total appointments (approximately three billion appointments).

Another increasingly popular approach is mindfulness. An integrative mind-body therapy, mindfulness looks to help people manage their thoughts and change the way they relate to experiences. It works by encouraging you to focus on the present moment and draws on meditation techniques.

Mindfulness is recommended by NICE as a preventative practice for those with recurrent depression. According to the Mental Health Foundation, studies show that Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction leads to a 70% reduction in anxiety.     

Medication statistics

In some cases mental illness benefits from medication. This should always be assessed by a doctor who can discuss symptoms and history. It is thought however that sometimes, medication is unduly prescribed.

In 2012 Avivia's Health of the Nation Report surveyed 202 GPs and it was found that 75% had prescribed medication even though they felt psychological therapies would be more effective.


Encouraging people to take care of their physical and mental health themselves is one way the health industry is trying to reduce strain on mental health services. The term self-management is used within the industry to describe the methods people use to manage themselves to achieve their objectives. For those living with mental health concerns, this can include gaining training and skills to help take greater control of their life.

Peer support is also commonly utilised. This is when people who have experienced a mental health condition are able to give support to one another. The support could be practical, emotional or even social. The premise is that it is mutually offered and reciprocated.

Online courses are also used within self-management. Computerised CBT (CCBT) has proven to be both cost effective and accessible. A study in 2015 looked at results in 23 adults undertaking CCBT. They experienced improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms and this improvement was sustained at a 12-month follow-up.6

Exercise and good nutrition have also been found important for self-management and improved mental health. A systematic review carried out by Stanton and Happell in 2014 found that aerobic exercise (like running and cycling) three times a week for 12 weeks improved mental health outcomes for those with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder.

Helping and training people to self-manage their health is set to be a key factor in the future of mental health treatment.

The future of mental health services

Our greater understanding of mental health and its effect on the nation calls into question how we will treat conditions in the future. The Mental Health Foundation has explored this, bringing up several key points that include (but are not limited to) the following: 

  • Personalisation - Creating a personalised service that involves the doctor, the patient and their family together as equal partners when making decisions about mental health treatment.
  • Self-management - As well as improving patients' knowledge of how to self-manage their condition, primary care GPs need to become leaders in mental health care.
  • Early life - Investing in mental well-being during early life is likely to repay its cost many times over by reducing use of other services in the future.
  • Later life - The prevalence of mental health concerns like depression in older people needs to be addressed with a comprehensive response.
  • New technology - Apps and online courses are proving to be valuable, and while new technology is likely to improve the way mental health care is delivered, it should not be used in place of one-to-one human contact.


  • 1 Care Quality Commission (2012), Monitoring the Mental Health Act in 2011/12.
  • 2 The Mental Health Policy Group (n.d). A manifesto for better mental health.
  • 3 Insel, T. (2011). The global cost of mental illness.
  • 4 Balmer, N. (2015). Mental health: How much does the UK spend on research?
  • 5 House of Commons Library (2015). Talking Therapies for Mental Health Problems Statistics Briefing Paper.
  • 6 Smith P, Scott R, Eshkevari E, Jatta F, Leigh E, Harris V, & Yule W. (2015). Computerised CBT for Depressed Adolescents: Randomised Controlled Trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 73, pp. 104-110.

Page last reviewed: 06/04/16

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