Skip navigation

Mental illness: common, disabling and costly

  • It is now the commonest single cause of disability adjusted life years lost in the Western world (23%, compared to 16% each for cardiovascular disease and cancer) (26)
  • It affects 18% of working age adults at any one point in time (27) and over a third of adults during the course of a year (28)
  • Lifetime risks vary from one in four of the population to one in two in different settings (29)
  • It is responsible for more sickness absence than any other illness (30) (31)
  • Mental, emotional or psychological problems, many of which fall short of diagnosable mental illness, together account for more disability than all physical health problems put together (32)
  • Mental illness is under diagnosed and under treated - only a minority of people with clinically recognisable mental illness in the UK receive and treatment (33)
  • Mental health problems represent the largest single cost to the NHS (11% of current spending) (34)
  • Mental illness costs England approximately £105 billion each year once its impact on work, crime and violence has been taken into account (35)
  • Protection against mental illness by reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors is important because treatment for mental illness is only partially effective.
  • It has been estimated that if all those with mental illness were given the best available treatment, the total burden of mental illness would reduce by only 28%.(36)
  • Mental illness is an important cause of social inequality, violence and unemployment as well as a consequence
  • Find out more about the economic case for public mental health


26) Murray CJL, Lopez AD. eds. The global burden of disease and injury series, a comprehensive Cambridge MA, USA: Harvard University Press; 1996.

27)  McManus S, Meltzer H, Brugha T, Bebbington P, Jenkins R. Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. United Kingdom: Health and Social Information Centre, Social Care Statistics;2009

28) Wittchen HU, Jacobi F, Rehm J, Gustavarsson A, Svensson M, Jonsson B, et al. The size and burden of mental disorder and other disorders of the brain in Europe. Eur Neuropsych Pharmacol 2011; 21:655-78.

29) Andrews G, Poulton R, Skoog I. Lifetime risk of depression: restricted to a minority or waiting for most? Br J Psychiatry 2005; 187:495-6

30) Carder M, McNamee M, Turner S , Hodgson JT, Holland F, Agius RM. Time trends in the incidence of work-related mental ill-health and musculoskeletal disorders in the UK. Occup Environ Med 2013; 70:317-324. doi:10.1136/oemed-2012-100904 Workplace

31) Hussey L, Carder M, Money A, Turner S and Agius RM. Comparison of work-related ill-health data from different GB sources. Occup Med (Lond) 2013: 63(1): 30-37.

32) Stewart-Brown S, Layte R. Emotional health problems are the most important cause of disability in adults of working age. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 1997; 51: 672-5.

33) McManus S, Meltzer H, Traolach B, Bebbington P, Jenkins R. Adult Psychiatric morbidity in England 2007 results of a household Survey. Health and Social information Centre-Social Care statistics.2007

34) McCrone P, Dhanasiri S, Patel A, Knapp M, Lowton-Smith S. Paying the price: the cost of mental health care in England to 2026. London: The King’s Fund; 2008.

35) Centre for Mental Health. The Economic and Social Costs of Mental Health Problems in 2009/10, London: Centre for Mental Health: 2010.

36) Andrews G, Issakidis C, Sanderson K, Corry J, Lapsley H. Utilising survey data to inform public policy: comparison of the cost-effectiveness of treatment of ten mental disorders. British Journal of Psychiatry 2004; 184:526-33.

Further resources

Become a Member

Become a Member

FPH is the professional home for public health in the UK and abroad. We support over 5,000 members across all career stages enabling them to drive the profession forward and achieve our vision of improving public health.

More details