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Mental health in South East London

Prevalence of common mental health problems in South East London is twice as high as the English national average, according to new research. 

The study, published in PLOS ONE, is the first to compare rates of mental illness in an inner city with UK national data and highlights the negative impact that living in inner cities can have on mental health.

Researchers at the National Institute for Health Research Biomedical Research Centre (NIHR BRC) for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust (SLaM) and King’s College London compared data on symptoms of common mental health disorders from the South East London Community Health Survey (SELCoH) with a national study – the 2007 English Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS).

Overall, the prevalence of common mental health problems in S.E. London was two times higher than the national prevalence.  Depression was four times more common in the S.E. London sample than in the national survey, and was the most common mental disorder diagnosed.

The S.E. London sample had a lower prevalence of hazardous alcohol use than in the national survey. However, illicit drug use in the past year was twice as high in S.E. London than in the rest of England, with cannabis and cocaine being the most commonly used drugs.

Professor Matthew Hotopf, principal investigator of the study from King's College London, and Director of the NIHR BRC Nucleus at SLaM and King’s says: “We know that living in urban areas is a risk factor for severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia. But the study suggests that there is something specific about the inner city environment which has a negative effect on mental health more generally. Understanding the local need is crucial information for NHS commissioners when assessing whether existing and planned mental health services are adequate.” 

Dr Stephani Hatch, lead author of the paper from King’s College London and the NIHR BRC for Mental Health at SLaM and King’s College London, says: “Greater London hides pockets of different problems which are masked at the metropolitan, let alone national, level. For example, drug abuse in our community in South East London is a much bigger problem than it is nationally, but problem drinking was not much different from national norms.”

The SELCoH study is a survey of 1,698 adults aged 16 and over from 1,075 randomly selected households in Southwark and Lambeth. Common mental health problems include depression, anxiety, panic disorder, phobias and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.

Paper reference: Hatch, S. et al. “Importance of thinking locally for mental health: data from cross-sectional surveys representing South East London and England” PLOS ONE doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0048012

For further information, please contact Seil Collins, Press Officer, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, email: or tel: 0207 848 5377

About the National Institute for Health Research:

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (

To find out more about the South East London Community Health Survey (SELCoH), please click here

The SELCoH study is jointly funded by the National Institute of Health Research Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London,  the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust Trustees and The Guy's and St Thomas' Charity.