Adult common mental health problems

Making the case for action

The National Collaborating Centre for Mental health Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) manual says that depression and anxiety disorders are the most common mental health problems (affecting approximately 16% of the population at any one time). They can have a devastating effect on people, their families and society.

IAPT services provide evidence-based treatments for people with depression and anxiety disorders. Services are underpinned by key principles including:

  • offering the most effective and least intrusive NICE-recommended psychological therapies first, in line with a stepped-care model
  • trained and competent clinicians who have regular supportive clinical supervision
  • meaningful choice in treatment
  • routine, session-by-session outcome monitoring.

Two-thirds of people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, usually anxiety or depression. In addition, up to 70% of people with medically unexplained symptoms also have depression or anxiety disorders, or both. These common mental health disorders are detectable and treatable.

NHS Long Term Plan

The Increased Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme is well-established and the Long Term Plan supports more adults and older adults to access the services they need via fixed year-on-year trajectories.

By 2023/24 services will be expanded covering a total of 1.9m adults and older adults. All areas will maintain the existing IAPT referral to treatment time and recovery standards (75% of people access treatment within 6 weeks, 95% within 18 weeks; with a recovery rate of at least 50% across the adult age group).

IAPT services have now evolved to deliver benefits to people with long-term conditions, providing genuinely integrated care for people at the point of delivery. The requirement that all areas commission an IAPT-LTC service is ongoing.

Five men sat in a support group circle.

Finding the right information

Our guidelines make evidence-based recommendations on topics ranging from preventing and managing specific conditions to planning broader services and interventions to improve the health of communities. They guide decisions about health and care by practitioners, providers, commissioners, service planners and users, and promote integrated care if appropriate.

We have published guidance and quality standards to support delivery of the IAPT services for the general population, as well as those with long-term conditions and medically unexplained symptoms. Relevant guidance is embedded in national supporting guidance documents, including the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health’s:

The easiest way to find all our guidance related to adult common mental health problems is to go to our topic pages on mental health and behavioural conditions.

NICE Pathways bring together everything we’ve said on a topic in an interactive flowchart. The main NICE Pathways for this topic are:

The following video explains how to use NICE Pathways.

How to use NICE Pathways

A group of older people in a group therapy talking session.

Using quality standards to make an impact on care and support

Quality standards contain a list of quality statements, each describing a priority area for quality improvement. They include metrics that can be a useful source of key performance indicators or performance metrics for system-wide performance dashboards. They help you identify areas to make high-impact improvements for common mental health problems in adults. See how to use quality standards for more information.

The main quality standards for adult common mental health problems are:

Support for improving quality

We publish a range of tools and resources to help with putting our guidance and quality standards into practice. You can find these on the ‘Tools and resources’ tab for each piece of guidance or standard. They include:

  • baseline assessment tools (for all guidelines) and a quality standard service improvement template (for all quality standards) to assess whether your services are in line with our guidelines and quality standards
  • shared learning case studies showing how organisations have used the guidance or quality standards in practice.

Shared learning case studies

The shared learning collection contains over 800 case studies showing how organisations around the UK have used NICE guidance and standards to improve the quality of health and social care services.

An Asian man listens to others speaking in a group environment.

Innovative ways of engaging with black and minority ethnic communities to improve access to psychological therapies

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust adapted their services to improve access to group therapy, and recognise that some communities face particular and culturally sensitive barriers to accessing these services. They have developed a culturally sensitive treatment group where patients can feel that their ethnic, cultural and spiritual beliefs were understood by the group facilitator and where specific barriers to access for these communities are addressed.

How cognitive behavioural therapy and a stepped care approach to mental health was adapted and implemented for use in the occupational health department

The Airedale NHS Trust adapted our guidance on anxiety and depression to use it in the workplace and use the stepped care approach to mental health.

Occupational health was restructured, and staff were given cognitive behavioural therapy training.

Staff felt more confident when communicating with people with anxiety and depression, and the number of people referred to the counsellor decreased, as did days lost because of mental health. Employees gave positive feedback about the changes.

Other resources

An illustration representing mental health resources.

Digitally enabled therapies

We worked with NHS England to identify and assess digitally enabled therapies. This is psychological therapy that’s provided online or through mobile applications, with the support of a trained therapist. This therapy:

  • follows our recommendations
  • addresses a condition that is part of the current IAPT programme, such as anxiety or depression.

NICE indicators

We’ve developed a set of outcome indicators to support care of adults with common mental health problems. Visit our standards and indicators page for more information. Indicators can be particularly useful to local partnerships when:

  • identifying where improvements are needed
  • setting priorities for quality improvement and support
  • creating local performance dashboards
  • benchmarking performance against national data
  • supporting local quality improvement schemes
  • demonstrating progress that local health systems are making on outcomes.