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Prevalence and symptomatology of mental disorders

Prevalence, expressed as a percentage, refers to the number of people with a particular disorder within a given population. Incidence, on the other hand, also expressed as a percentage, refers to the number of new cases that arise within a given population in a given time period. Actual estimates of prevalence and incidence of mental disorders vary from one epidemiological study to the next. Different samples will have been studied and there may be real differences between populations.

Also different instruments might have been used, and the results from these might have been interpreted in different ways to define a ‘case’. The NSF for Mental Health  used a variety of sources to present prevalence data including World Health Organization figures, which generate European and other world region estimates, rather than country specific data (though the most recent report (WHO 2001) does provide estimates for Manchester as a marker for UK data). The NSF also relied on a survey of psychiatric morbidity for adults conducted in the UK in 1994.

More recently this survey was repeated  and it is these data that we have chosen that most accurately represent the prevalence of mental disorders in the UK. Singleton et al. (2001) sampled more than 15,000 private households in England, Wales and Scotland, of which 8,886 took part in the survey, and in each of these households one member completed a battery of instruments. All subjects were between the ages of 16 and 74. The survey gathered symptom data, which were used to describe both the incidence of symptoms among those who did not meet diagnostic criteria, and the prevalence of specific diagnoses where the level of symptoms indicated their presence. The report provides data for common mental health problems in terms of the weekly prevalence per 1000 adults. The report also provides data for more severe forms of disorder and substance use in terms of the annual prevalence per 1000 adults. Notice that refers to ‘probable psychosis’ since its confirmation through research interviews can be difficult to accurately discern. ‘Probable psychosis’ refers to schizophrenia, schizotypal and delusional disorders. The mental disorders contained in Tables 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3 can affect a person’s mood, thought processes, perceptions and behaviours. Common symptoms associated with these disorders are described below. They are examined in more detail in the chapters to follow, which deal with specific mental disorders.

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