A tool for maximising the uptake of existing mental health measures in longitudinal studies

Georgia AndrewsLouise ArsenaultIn Mental Health Awareness Week, Georgia Andrews and Louise Arsenault share an update on the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures: who uses it, what’s new and what planned next steps are. 

 

 

The UK is home to some of the most well-known longitudinal studies and these are hugely rich data sources. These studies have continuously collected a wide range of data – including mental health data – over seven decades, sowing the seeds for innovative and transformative mental health research.

One in six people in England will experience a mental health problem during their lives (APMS survey, 2014). Consequently, mental health research has a key role to play in answering crucial questions related to the causes, development, and risk factors, and ultimately inform prevention and intervention initiatives.

The Catalogue of Mental Health Measures is a platform designed to improve the discoverability of UK longitudinal mental health data and facilitate mental health research by providing easy access to information about the measures in British longitudinal studies.

The Catalogue displays detailed information about each study including its aims and a description of the sample, as well as the instruments used for collecting data. It also provides fine-grained detail about each measure such as the items, the response scale, who the informant is, and the age of the participants.

Professor Louise Arseneault, who leads this project, introduced some background to the setting up of the Catalogue, its vision and some interesting findings last year on the Data Impact blog.

The Catalogue is continuously being updated and expanded by adding new studies. The ambition is that by improving the visibility and accessibility of mental health and wellbeing measures, the Catalogue encourages mental health research amongst people from various disciplines, including those who do not traditionally work on mental health (e.g., linguists, urbanists, demographers, etc).

 

Who uses the Catalogue?

The Catalogue can be a great source of information for all!

We (being the team working on the Catalogue) believe it would be useful to students wanting to learn about longitudinal research, stakeholders interested in mental health research, and early career researchers looking to utilise existing data. Anybody who wants to explore and discover the breadth of mental health measures used across time in the UK will benefit from trying out the Catalogue.

Google analytics indicate that the Catalogue reaches countries across the world with users in the USA, Finland, and Canada, to name a few. This shows that the Catalogue is a valuable tool for mental health researchers across the globe, giving the opportunity for existing measures to be discovered globally and continuously.

 

What’s new with the Catalogue?

51 studies – and counting!

The Catalogue now compiles details of mental health topics and related measures from 51 ongoing longitudinal studies. Altogether the studies cover a variety of aims and objectives, allowing the Catalogue to bring together information about a wide range of data.

The Catalogue covers multiple study designs, including twin studies, household panel surveys, accelerated cohort studies and repeated cross-sectional designs. This variation allows users to discover a variety of mental health data across different kinds of longitudinal cohorts.

Updated Covid-19 data

Information about mental health measures collected during the Covid-19 pandemic is available on the Catalogue. It is timely for research to further investigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health and wellbeing in the population and among vulnerable groups. With the proportion of UK adults meeting the diagnostic criteria for depression rising from 10% to 21% between March 2020 and 2021 (ONS Opinions and Lifestyle Survey – Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain. January – March 2021), it is important to understand why and how this increase has occurred, and how the effects can be minimised.

New physical health measures

The Catalogue now includes details of physical health! This expansion was inspired by evidence showing the links between physical and mental health. For example, mental health problems can sometimes show through somatic symptoms, such as poor sleep quality, and some physical health conditions may lead to poorer mental health.  We hope that this additional information will facilitate further research into exploring these links.

After a thorough review of the studies already available on the Catalogue, we extracted a list of physical health topics most often collected by UK longitudinal studies. These measures cover conditions, symptoms, and indicators of physical health, as well as direct measurements collected by clinicians or study teams. Some of the interesting physical health topics we reviewed include anthropometry, cardiovascular health, physical activity, and sleep quality, to list a few.

Users are encouraged to explore each study’s website to discover more detailed information about the physical health measures available.

And let’s not forget social care!

Social care and mental health services are closely related. Those who need social support may suffer from mental health problems. Meanwhile, if providing social care becomes strenuous, this could also impact an individual’s mental health.

The Catalogue now allows users to narrow their search of mental health and wellbeing measures for studies that also include indicators of the need, receipt, and provision of social care.

We hope to facilitate research on the links between needing, receiving, and providing social care, with mental health and wellbeing.

We worked on this expansion in collaboration with the Care Policy and Evaluation Centre at London School of Economics.

 

DATAMIND and the Catalogue

The Catalogue is now part of DATAMIND, a Health Data Research UK (HDRUK) data hub.

DATAMIND works to make the best use of mental health data and enable coordinated research. It includes a broad range of data sources to reflect the multi-dimensional determinants of mental health, and their inter-related longitudinal impacts.

The Catalogue and DATAMIND share similar values about the importance of making mental health data discoverable, for the benefit of researchers and people who struggle with their mental health. They are part of a wider consortium aiming to facilitate mental health research, encouraging the uptake of longstanding data to overall improve our understanding of mental health. Researchers can therefore use the Catalogue and DATAMIND to find multiple sources of existing data and use these to advance their own research in the field.

 

So… what’s next?

The Catalogue is continuously expanding and will soon include measures of personality and temperament. Whilst personality and temperamental traits are not indicators of mental health conditions, they can contribute to a better understanding of mental health overall.

We also have plans to cover cohorts outside the UK. By doing so, we aim to provide a window into mental health research conducted all over the world. From this, we hope the Catalogue will facilitate international collaborations.

The Catalogue aims to continue assisting cohort and longitudinal studies in sowing the seeds for rich mental health research, enabling and encouraging the uptake of valuable existing data.


About the Authors

Georgia Andrews is an undergraduate psychology student at Cardiff University, currently undertaking her placement year at the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry (SGDP) Centre, King’s College London. She has been working with the team on the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures since September 2021 and will continue to do so until summer 2022.

Louise Arseneault is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at King’s College London and ESRC Mental Health Leadership Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @L_Arseneault

 

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