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Mental health services

What are mental health services?

Many people underestimate the impact that mental health conditions can have on individuals, their families, and society as a whole. In the UK, mental illness accounts for a third of all illnesses and, at any given time, one person in six experiences anxiety or depression.

In England, mental health conditions cost approximately £105 billion a year, due to loss of earnings and associated treatment and welfare costs. The cost to an individual with a mental health illness can also be high because left untreated, such conditions can result in unemployment, homelessness, the break-up of families, and suicide.  

Why it is necessary

Due to the continuing stigma that some people have about mental health conditions, many individuals are reluctant to talk about any mental health problems they may have had. It is therefore easy to underestimate how widespread these types of conditions are in England.

It is estimated that 1 in 4 people will experience at least one mental health condition at some point in their life. This means that mental health conditions affect more people than the combined total of people who are affected by:

While mental health conditions are not usually life-threatening, left untreated, they can lead to activities and behaviours that are physically harmful and, in some cases, life-threatening. For example:

Although suicide rates have fallen by 20% since 1998, suicide remains one of the leading causes of death in young people and adults who are under 45 years of age. For example, in England, in 2007, there were 4,011 suicides, and over half of these were in people under 45. 

Common adult mental health conditions

The most common mental health conditions to affect adults in England are:

  • mixed anxiety depressive disorder - a condition where a person experiences the symptoms of depression and anxiety; it is estimated to affect 1 in 10 adults in any given year,
  • generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – a condition where a person experience persistent and severe feelings of anxiety; is estimated to affect 1 in 20 adults each year,
  • episodes of moderate to severe depression - which is estimated to affect 1 in 40 adults a year,
    phobias - an extreme, or irrational, fear, such as a fear of heights, or animals; phobias are estimated to affect 1 in 40 adults a year,
  • obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) – a condition where a person experiences obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours; is estimated to affect 1 in 75 adults a year, and
  • panic disorders (also known as panic attacks) - which are estimated to affect 1 in 80 adults a year.  

Complex adult mental health conditions

Complex adult mental health conditions are generally less common than the mental health conditions that are mentioned above, but they can have a greater impact on the quality of a person’s life and can be more challenging to treat.

Complex mental health conditions include:

Personality disorders are a range of conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviour. Most people with personality disorders find it difficult to deal with other people. 

Other uses of mental health services

There are a range of other conditions that while not strictly mental health conditions, can often benefit from the input of mental health services. These include:

Mental health in children and young people

As well as adults requiring mental health services, as many children and young people also experience mental health problems.

It is estimated that 1 in every 10 children and young people who are between 5-16 years of age are diagnosed with a mental health condition.

Mental health conditions that are known to affect children and young people include:

Changes to mental health services

National service framework

In recognition of the scale of the challenges presented by mental health conditions, in 1999, the NHS undertook a major reform of its mental health services after the publication of the national service framework (NSF) for mental health. The NSF report outlined a 10- year plan with the aim of transforming mental health services for the better.

The NSF identified seven key approaches to treatment that were considered as being important in providing efficient and effective mental health services. These are:

  • the provision of care close to home,
  • early intervention for mental health problems,
  • ‘24/7’ home treatment,
  • tailored care,
  • better access to modern medicines,
  • the use of multi-disciplinary teams, made up of healthcare professionals who each specialise in different aspects of treating mental health conditions, and
  • the increased use of talking therapies, such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

As a result, the NHS now provides one of the most comprehensive and well-respected mental health services in Europe, as recently acknowledged by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

New Horizons

Seeking to build on the success of the NSF, in 2009, the Department of Health launched the New Horizons programme, which is a 10-year strategy to further improve mental health services by 2020.

As with the NSF, the New Horizons programme has identified a number of additional key approaches and priorities that should help to further improve the country’s mental health services. These are:

  • improving everyone’s mental wellbeing,
  • helping people to understand mental health problems,
  • teaching people not to treat those with mental health problems unfairly,
  • recognising mental health problems early,
  • providing services and treatments in a way that people with mental health problems want them,
  • working with councils, the NHS, and government departments to make sure people get all of the services that they need,
  • continuous help and support for young people when they move between child and adult services at the age of 18,
  • continuing to improve services and using available funds carefully,
  • making it easier for people to find and get the help that they need, and
  • giving people a say in the treatment they receive. 


The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Kat7689 said on 23 November 2013

This article amazes me.

An estimated 3.2 million people in the UK suffer with some form of eating disorder. There are fewer than 200 specialist units to treat the condition, child and adult.
This article refers to anorexia and bulimia but there are of course many forms of eating disorders each unique to the sufferer.

Eating disorders carry the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses.
Yet with early intervention recovery is possible.
Research also shows early intervention to decrease the cost on services as the longer term causation such as osteoporosis, and organ damage or long term hospitalisation is far more costly and a strain on limited resources.

It amazes me then that despite the facts, despite the evidence, no funding has gone in to increasing resources and actually considering the above points.
I was recently denied outpatient treatment, because I was maintaining my weight.
I didn't meet the criteria.

I struggle with anorexia nervosa, and I don't want to end up in hospital again, but the services are asking me to lose weight in order to get the treatment I desperately need in order to recover fully.

It angers me because there is nothing available to me, and I cannot afford private treatment.

There are thousands living like me, living a half life, because an eating disorder is a miserable life.

We know that early intervention helps, why can patients not be seen when they are physically healthy, go through months of mental pain, before their body collapses and then be seen and then its too late?

Oh and lastly, I've discovered if I move I have to start again from complete scratch again which is like a 6month waiting list.

Please please help.

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Page last reviewed: 12/09/2011

Next review due: 12/09/2013

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