Harmonisation of mental health measures in British birth cohorts

Lead Research Organisation: University College London
Department Name: Social Science


Major depression and anxiety disorders appear in the top 10 causes of global burden of disease, with major depression also being the second leading cause of disability worldwide and a major contributor to the burden of suicide and ischemic heart disease. The public health burden of these common psychological disorders is estimated to continue to increase. While the huge costs to society, and to the economy, of poor mental health are undisputed (4) and inequalities due to both social causation and selection are well documented, the idea that experiences of mental distress in adulthood are increasing across generations has not been much discussed, and yet if true as recent evidence suggests, is of major societal and population health significance, especially considering the effects of population ageing. Understanding the development of mental health symptoms over the life course and the investigation of secular mental health trends require comparable measures within and across cohorts, but with rare exceptions the measurement conditions that allow reliable comparisons have not been investigated.

Planned Impact

We will disseminate our findings to a wide range of academic and other audiences. The team is multidisciplinary (economics, psychology, population health, epidemiology, applied statistics) and this expands the potential dissemination network. We will present our findings in national and international conferences and via an article in a high-impact, peer-reviewed journal. We have a strong track record of publishing in leading international journals, and established links with academics from various disciplines based in universities in the UK and internationally. We will also run a 1-day workshop featuring presentations of the harmonisation report and user guide as well as our other findings and discussion of policy and practice implications. As well as providing guidance for analysts on the use of mental health measures, our findings will be valuable for future cohorts, by identifying which mental health measures have the desirable measurement properties and are therefore more likely to add most value to future studies and/or sweeps of existing studies. The project will be supported by the impact and communications infrastructure at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS), including its award-winning Communications Team. Media coverage of CLS work has proven to be an effective way of reaching many of CLS's target audiences, including policymakers, practitioners and the general public. CLS has successfully secured coverage by the BBC, Channel 4, Guardian, Telegraph, Times, Financial Times, Independent, among others. Our work will be fitted into CLS's wider Impact Strategy, meaning we will have access to CLS's full range of communications tools and channels. We will also capitalize on the network of impact partners established within the ESRC funded CLS Cross Cohort Research Programme and work closely with the National Children's Bureau and the Mental Health Foundation to maximise the impact of our findings by helping us to target interested people, organisations and stake holders more effectively.


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