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Mental Health in UK Biobank – development, implementation and results from an online questionnaire completed by 157,366 participants: a reanalysis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere18
Number of pages8
JournalBJPsych Open
Issue number2
DateAccepted/In press - 20 Dec 2019
DatePublished (current) - 6 Feb 2020


Background: UK Biobank is a well-characterised cohort of over 500,000 participants including genetics, environmental data, and imaging. An online mental health questionnaire was designed for UK Biobank participants to expand its potential.

Methods: An expert working group designed the questionnaire, using established measures where possible, and consulting a service user group. Operational criteria were agreed for defining likely disorder and risk states, including lifetime depression, mania/hypomania, generalised anxiety disorder, unusual experiences and self-harm, and current post-traumatic stress and hazardous/harmful alcohol use.

Results: 157,366 completed online questionnaires were available by August 2017. Participants were aged 45-82 (53% ≥ 65 years) and 57% female. Comparison of self-reported diagnosed mental disorder with a contemporary study shows a similar prevalence, despite respondents being of higher average socioeconomic status. Lifetime depression was a common finding, with 24% (37,434) of participants meeting criteria and current hazardous/harmful alcohol use criteria were met by 21% (32,602), while other criteria were met by less than 8% of the participants. There was extensive comorbidity among the syndromes. Mental disorders were associated with a high neuroticism score, adverse life events and long-term illness; addiction and bipolar affective disorder in particular were associated with measures of deprivation.

Conclusions: The UK Biobank questionnaire represents a very large mental health survey in itself, and the results presented here show high face validity, although caution is needed due to selection bias. Built into UK Biobank, these data intersect with other health data to offer unparalleled potential for crosscutting biomedical research involving mental health.

    Research areas

  • mental health, UK Biobank, cohort study, depressive disorders, alcohol disorders



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    Licence: CC BY


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