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  • University of Leicester leads national mental health survey

    The University of Leicester is conducting a national mental health and well-being survey to help inform public policy in England, looking at health issues including disability, physical health, pain, lifestyle and life events, to determine how they affect a person’s overall mental health and is funded using £1.3 million from the Department for Health and Social Care.

    The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS) is the only survey programme of its kind which aims to gather vital data related to an entire country and is the fifth in a series which has been tracking rates of mental illness across England since 1993, the last of which was delayed by the pandemic.

    Professor Terry Brugha (pictured) from the University of Leicester’s Population Health Sciences department is leading the survey, alongside the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), London.

    He said: “Around one in six people living in England have a common mental disorder (CMD) such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, and eating disorders. It’s vitally important we understand why that might be, who is most likely to develop a disorder and who is most likely to access support for this so that we can begin to tackle the issues and fill in the gaps. Also assessed are rarer conditions such as psychosis and autism.

    “We were the first and are still the only country in the world to measure rates of autism in adults in the community throughout an entire country.  This will be our fourth survey on autism. Our previous surveys showed that most adults in England with autism, especially older adults, are unaware they have it. Because of this the government and the NHS has since greatly increased funding into adult autism NHS services – this is Leicester research impacting directly on national public policy.”

    He added: “Public policy is hugely important. For years mental health was seen as a stigma, but now that’s been broken down – we’re much more aware that we can and need to look for help. This survey will help by looking at contributory factors and by measuring trends over time.”

    Professor Brugha, alongside researchers Ms Zoe Morgan and Associate Professor Samuel Tromans from the University, are using the World Health Organisation (WHO) Schedules for Clinical Assessment in Neuropsychiatry (SCAN), a semi-structured clinical interview used by trained interviewers, to assess specific, complex psychiatric disorders among adults. Professor Brugha has led an international group of experts on the development of SCAN on behalf of WHO.

    Zoe Morgan said: “The SCAN goes beyond just asking people to fill out questionnaires. In a SCAN interview you are asked to describe in your own words how you feel and see things.  You are also asked if this is excessive under the circumstances, distressing and difficult to control.  The interviewer decides on the basis of rules, which are agreed by WHO, whether what you describe represents a clinical symptom of illness needing expert help.”

    Associate Professor Samuel Tromans said: “The surveys enable us to build an accurate picture of the changes in rates of mental health conditions taking place within our health care systems and communities so that we can confidently identify priorities and how best to tackle them. Not only can they help us understand the everyday stresses, strains and joys affecting the health of the nation, but the social, cultural and demographic inequalities which are taking place. We’re ahead of other nations including the USA, Canada and Australia, who have only completed two such national surveys so far.

    “The latest survey will also have a more detailed focus on eating disorders, in response to this topic being identified as a research priority by members of the public, academics, charity and public sector representatives, but will also continue to look at rarer mental health conditions such as autism and psychosis.”

    More than 7,000 adults across England are being interviewed about their mental health as part of the latest survey by NatCen. The University of Leicester research team is currently interviewing in greater depth over 900 of the same people using SCAN to examine more complex conditions.

    He added: “Findings from the survey will help shape and improve national planning for health and support services, and so are vitally important. We’re grateful to all those who give their time to take part in answering questions which cover sensitive topics with the results set to be published next year.”


    Stuart O'Brien

    All stories by: Stuart O'Brien

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