Key statistics about mental health treatment and services

Written by Katherine Nicholls
Katherine Nicholls
Counselling Directory Content Team

Reviewed by Laura Duester
Last updated 2nd August 2023 | Next update due 1st August 2026

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, and what the future of mental health services looks like.


Accessing mental health services

According to the Mental Health Foundation1, the number of people living with a common mental health problem and seeking treatment has significantly increased. Other reports show that more and more people are visiting their GPs with anxiety, stress and other mental health concerns. For example, a 2018 study by Mind2 revealed that two in three GPs saw an increase in patients seeking mental health support. The survey also found that around two in every five GP appointments are about mental health.

People Management reported that, in 2021, 92% of GPs saw an increase in patients with work-related stress and anxiety. This has been heightened since the start of the pandemic3. Rather worryingly, however, Mental Health First Aid England reports that 70-75% of people with a diagnosable mental health problem do not receive treatment4.

There is also concern about the occupancy levels at mental health trusts. The Royal College of Psychiatrists recommends a maximum occupancy level of 85%. However in England, since 2014 (though dipping at the peak of the pandemic) the rate has been 88% or more, demonstrating the increasing pressure on these services5.

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.


The cost of mental illness

With the increase of people experiencing mental health concerns, the financial strain on services is rising. A 2022 report from The London School of Economics and Political Science found that mental health problems cost the UK economy at least almost £118 billion per year, which equates to around 5% of the country's GDP6.

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.  According to MQ Mental Health Research, on average, the UK spends £115 million per year on mental health research7. The Government are set to invest in additional funding by March 20248

Mental health researchIn 2018, only 6.1% of the UK's total health research budget was spent on mental health9.

Talking therapy statistics

Figures from the NHS reveal that between 2021-22, there was a 21.5% rise in the number of people accessing talking therapies. There is a growing range of talking therapies available to those in need10. Whilst there is a growing range of talking therapies available to those in need, it appears that not everyone is being offered the full range.

According to the 'We still need to talk' report by Mind, 40% of those surveyed had to request access to psychological therapies rather than being offered access. Additionally, over half waited over three months for treatment, whilst 58% said they were not given a choice as to the type of therapy they received11

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 talking therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy. This is now known as the NHS Talking Therapies Programme12.

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, together with guided self-help books, was revealed to be the most common form of therapy given (72.7%) during 2021-2213.

Another increasingly popular approach is mindfulness. In 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.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction can help people cope with stress. Mindfulness is recommended by NICE for those who experience recurrent depression14.  


Medication statistics

In some cases, mental illness might benefit 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.

The 2012 Aviva 'Health of the Nation' report found that 75% had been of the 200 GPs surveyed prescribed medication even though they felt psychological therapies would be more effective. 84%  of GPs said there are long waiting lists for talking therapies, so medication may be given whilst patients await access15.


Self-management

Encouraging people to take care of their physical and mental health themselves is one way the health industry is trying to reduce the 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 the results of 23 adults undertaking CCBT. They experienced improvements in anxiety and depression symptoms and this improvement was sustained at a 12-month follow-up16.

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 disorder17.

Helping and training people to self-manage their health is set to be a key factor in the future of mental health treatment. However, some people criticise the self-management approach as it’s often not personalised to each individual's needs and lacks professional therapeutic input.


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 Foundation18 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 the 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.

References

  • 1 Mental Health Foundation, People seeking help for diagnosable mental health problems: statistics, Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/statistics/people-seeking-help-diagnosed-mental-health-problems-statistics
  • 2 Mind (2018), 40 per cent of all GP appointments about mental health, Available at: https://www.mind.org.uk/news-campaigns/news/40-per-cent-of-all-gp-appointments-about-mental-health/ 
  • 3 People Management (2021), GPs seeing increase in work-related stress, poll finds, Available at: https://www.peoplemanagement.co.uk/article/1745169/gps-seeing-increase-work-related-stress-poll-finds 
  • 4 Mental Health First Aid England: Mental Health Statistics (2020), Available at: https://mhfaengland.org/mhfa-centre/research-and-evaluation/mental-health-statistics/ 
  • 5 The Royal College of Psychiatrists (2022), Bed occupancy across mental health trusts, Available at: https://mentalhealthwatch.rcpsych.ac.uk/indicators/bed-occupancy-across-mental-health-trust
  • 6 LSE (2022), Mental health problems cost UK economy at least £118 billion a year - new research, Available at: https://www.lse.ac.uk/News/Latest-news-from-LSE/2022/c-Mar-22/Mental-health-problems-cost-UK-economy-at-least-118-billion-a-year-new-research
  • 7 MQ Mental Health Research (2015), Mental health research: how much does the UK spend?, Available at: https://www.mqmentalhealth.org/mental-health-research-how-much-does-the-uk-spend
  • 8 Department of Health and Social Care Media Centre (2023), How we are supporting mental health services in England, Available at: https://healthmedia.blog.gov.uk/2023/06/09/how-we-are-supporting-mental-health-services-in-england/
  • 9 Mental Health Foundation, Investment into mental health research: statistics, Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/mental-health-statistics/investment-mental-health-research-statistics 
  • 10 NHS Digital (2022), Latest NHS Digital figures show 21.5% rise in number of people accessing talking therapies: statistical press release, Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/news/2022/latest-nhs-digital-figures-show-21.5-rise-in-number-of-people-accessing-talking-therapies-statistical-press-release 
  • 11 Mind, ‘We still need to talk: A report on access to talking therapies’, Available at:https://www.mind.org.uk/media-a/4248/we-still-need-to-talk_report.pdf  
  • 12 Nuffield Trust (2023), NHS Talking Therapies (IAPT) programme, Available at: https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/resource/improving-access-to-psychological-therapies-iapt-programme
  • 13 NHS Digital (2022), Psychological Therapies, Annual report on the use of IAPT services, 2021-22, Available at: https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/psychological-therapies-annual-reports-on-the-use-of-iapt-services/annual-report-2021-22/therapy-based-outcomes
  • 14 Mental Health Foundation, How to look after your mental health using mindfulness, Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/explore-mental-health/publications/how-look-after-your-mental-health-using-mindfulness 
  • 15 Aviva (2013), UK: Patients call for better mental health provision while GPs are sceptical that access will improve, Available at: https://www.aviva.com/newsroom/news-releases/2013/01/uk-patients-call-for-better-mental-health-provision-while-gps-are-sceptical-that-access-will-improve-17089/ 
  • 16 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.
  • 17 Stanton and Happell (2014), A Systematic Review of the Aerobic Exercise Program Variables for People with Schizophrenia, Current Sports Medicine Reports,13(4), pp. 260-266
  • 18 Mental Health Foundation, The economic case for investing in the prevention of mental health conditions in the UK (Summary), Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/MHF-Investing-in-Prevention-Report-Summary.pdf 
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