Mental Health & Statistics – Issues with Large Datasets


ental health is often a difficult subject to talk about; there is an ongoing stigma associated with it, and it can feel difficult to get the true measure of what’s going on in the area, for a variety of reasons.

As business owners and individuals, understanding mental health and how it impacts on your work and colleagues is vital to your ongoing success. Mental health facts and data are just one part of a complicated and diverse world - and learning how to approach data like this can be incredibly helpful from a business point of view.

In collaboration with Amanda Whitlock from Total Wellbeing Matters, this blog aims to discuss some of the challenges in this area and suggest some takeaway points that you can apply to other complex datasets for your business.

Impact on the Workplace

Before we explore the reasons why employers should implement workplace practices that improve the mental health of their staff, we firstly need to think about what we are talking about when we talk about mental health.

When we talk about mental health it is important to recognise that we are not talking about mental illness. Mental health is part of our overall health – you cannot separate mental health from physical health.

We also need to appreciate that having a bad day does not mean you are mentally ill. It is normal to sometimes feel sad or angry or low or anxious. These emotions make us human. It only becomes mental illness if:

  • The feelings are more severe than normal
  • You have been feeling like this for a while
  • It is severely effecting the quality of your every day life.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:

Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community” (World Health Organisation, 2014).

The quality of our mental health is shown by:

•       How we feel, think and behave

•       How resilient we are

•       How we feel about ourselves and our life

•       How we see ourselves and our future

•       How we deal with adverse events that happen in our life

•       Our level of self- esteem and confidence

•       How we cope with stress

Mental health Issues are common

•       Approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental illness each year. In 2016, 15.8 million UK work days were lost due to mental illness.1

•       Mental illness costs UK businesses around £35 billion every year, this equates to £10.6 billion lost to sickness absence, £21.2 billion in reduced productivity, and £3.1 billion in substituting staff members who vacate their roles due to mental illness.2

•       In 2018 there were 6,154 suicides in Great Britain.

•       About 1 in every 200 adults experience a psychotic disorder, like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, in any one year.

•       Most people say they would not want anyone to know they have a mental health illness.

There is no single cause for mental health issues and we all react differently to stress and difficult life events. The factors that impact our mental health and wellbeing are often defined as either a risk factor or a protective factor. Risk factors are those aspects of our lives that have a negative effect on our mental health while protective factors strengthen our resilience and help us improve our ability to cope with adverse circumstances.

As an employer you have a legal duty of care to ensure that employees are provided with a safe working environment and must take reasonable care to prevent personal injury (including mental or physical harm) that may arise in the workplace.

However, not only is investing in mental health morally and legally the right thing to do it is also financially a smart thing to do.

Poor Mental health costs UK employers up to £45 billion each year. But for every £1 spent by employers on mental health interventions, they get back £5 in reduced absence, presenteeism, and staff turnover.” Deloitte, 2020

By implementing policies and procedures that support employee wellbeing you will cut absenteeism, improve staff morale, increase productivity and boost the motivation and commitment of your staff. In a recent survey it was found that;

Employees favour a workplace that cares for their wellbeing and demonstrates support for wellbeing through a healthy work/life balance and strong diversity policies
World Federation for Mental Health, 2017: Mental Health in the Workplace

Independent research and evaluation has also shown that implementing mental health support in the workplace such as investing in Mental Health First Aid courses:

  • Raises awareness of mental illnesses
  • Encourages early intervention to aid recovery,
  • increases confidence in dealing with mental illnesses
  • Reduces stigma

In addition, research suggests that improving UK workplace mental health management could reduce employers’ losses attributed to mental illness by 30%, collectively. Evidence also shows that people who achieve good standards of well-being at work are likely to be more creative, more loyal, more productive, and provide better customer satisfaction than individuals with poor standards of well-being at work. NEF, 2014.

Training your staff in Mental health awareness or as Mental health First Aiders is a step towards equipping your teams to be able to talk about their mental health and for issues to be dealt with before they reach crisis level. For more information contact or visit

The Facts & Interpreting Them

Suicide is a devastating and often misunderstood part of mental health, with highly quoted facts and figures.  

A 2014 study from the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that almost 800,000 people die from suicide each year. Having better understanding of this fact could help raise understanding of how to reduce this number and prevent more deaths from occurring.

But how can we be sure that figures like this are genuine? Before we use a fact like this to inform our business, or share it online, we should do our due diligence to confirm it’s genuine.

Suicide is a divisive topic around the world. Registering suicide as a cause of death, (data collection) is the first step to having valid data about the subject – but where there is no reliable process for this in a country, or where suicide is wrongly not listed as the cause of death, this fails.

“…there is a problem with the frequency and reliability of vital registration data in many countries – an issue undermining the quality of mortality estimates in general, not just suicide.”
Hannah Ritchie, Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2015) – “Suicide”. Published online at Retrieved from: ‘’ [Online Resource]

As discussed in “Our World in Data” research, the worldwide quality of data recorded in relation to suicide is lacking. In some countries suicide is considered illegal, and in many others, there are strong social and religious pressures against its discussion. This can lead to deaths by suicide being misclassified, and therefore not included in data reports and facts.

Further, if the processing of deaths in a country isn’t well established, all data in relation to mortality and its causes is likely skewed.

These issues with collecting the data in the first place are an example of selection bias; the samples taken to create the facts and figures are not representative of the real-world population, due to accidental and deliberate changes to the source data.

“And while data might seem objective, data is collected and analyzed by humans, and thus can be biased.”

For a great read on types of bias, take a look here.

Beyond issues with collecting representative samples, there are also complications to consider in relation to storing that data and processing it.

Whilst it is incredibly difficult and complicated to collect, store and analyse mortality data from every country in the world in a standardised and reliable manner, this is carried out by large organisations such as the WHO, who have the expertise and funding to do it. It’s mostly worth considering in this case as it can also inform you whether a fact is likely to be true, due to any specific weaknesses in how available that data is.

A large international organisation with the backing of worldwide governments and universities should be considered reliable, well-funded and non-corrupt, with the appropriate resources and expertise to make such a claim. This may not always be the case with data that is freely available online.

In terms of you performing your own research as a business, it’s always worth having a strong plan in place that details your existing bias and beliefs, and which confirms how you plan to store and use the data before you make a start, to maximise the likelihood that your data is truly objective and helpful.

Moving forward

So what are the takeaway points?

1.     Mental health values are often underestimated, and likely will be until systemic biases can evolve worldwide.

2.     However, the facts and figures from reputable sources still offer a powerful insight into this area and are the result of a lot of work and data processing.

3.     When reading facts online, you should always try and understand where the data has come from, and what processing has been done to it. This can inform you about biases and weaknesses of the fact.

4.     If you’re looking to analyse larger datasets for your business, not just mental health, then you need to understand the whole lifecycle of collecting the data, analysing it, and producing the conclusions. Consider your own biases.

5.     Common facts and figures can miss the complexity of a situation.

If you’d like to help yourself and your staff gain a better understanding of mental health and how to handle it, pre-emptive knowledge is key. Look at Total Wellbeing Matters and see if Amanda can help.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health, please take a look at the free resources available to you.

Thank you for reading, and if you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave a comment below. Have a great day!


1 - McManus S, Bebbington P, Jenkins R, Brugha T. (eds.) (2016). Mental health and wellbeing in England: Adult psychiatric morbidity survey 2014. Leeds: NHS digital.

2- Centre for Mental Health, 2017: Mental health at work: The business costs ten years on

Follow Us on Social Networks!

Latest news straight to your inbox!

The at in the email address icon
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.