Mental health and wellbeing

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as:

Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.

The Department of Health defines wellbeing as:

Wellbeing is about feeling good and functioning well. Personal Wellbeing is most often considered, this asks people directly how they think and feel about their own wellbeing, and includes aspects such as life satisfaction, positive emotions, and whether their life is meaningful. Objective Wellbeing is also important and is based on assumptions about basic human needs and rights, including aspects such as adequate food, physical health, education, safety etc.

Our mental health influences our physical health, as well as our capability to lead a healthy lifestyle and to manage and recover from physical health conditions. People with physical health problems, especially long-term conditions, are at increased risk of poor mental health - particularly depression and anxiety. Around 30% of people with any long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem. Poor mental health, in turn, exacerbates some long-term conditions, such as chronic pain.

When looking at population level indicators relating to mental health and wellbeing we include levels of common mental health conditions (such as depression and anxiety), together with concepts such as life satisfaction and happiness which are relevant to all people with and without a diagnosed mental health condition. Many wider factors (including housing, employment and early life experiences) can be impacted by and have an impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Mental health problems start early in life. Half of all mental health problems have been established by the age of 14, rising to 75% by age 24. Social risk factors such as poverty, migration, extreme stress, exposure to violence (domestic, sexual and gender-based), emergency and conflict situations, natural disasters, trauma, and low social support, increase risk for poor mental health and specific disorders. Across the UK, those in the poorest fifth of the population are twice as likely to be at risk of developing mental health problems as those on an average income.

Well-being is a key issue for the Government and ONS are leading a programme of work to develop new measures of national well-being. People with higher well-being have lower rates of illness, recover more quickly and for longer, and generally have better physical and mental health.

Evidence suggests there are 5 steps you can take to improve your mental health and wellbeing. Trying these things could help you feel more positive and able to get the most out of life:

  • Connect with other people
  • Be physically active
  • Learn new skills
  • Give to others
  • Pay attention to the present moment
Social inequalities and mental health


The Bolton picture

Further useful links