Mental well-being and social support statistics
Data extracted in March 2018
Planned article update: March 2022
In 2014, some 7 % of the EU population reported suffering from chronic depression.
In 2014, a higher proportion of women (9 %) than men (5 %) in the EU suffered from chronic depression.
In 2013, more than 9 in 10 Europeans had someone to rely on in case of need.
Percentage of persons aged 15 and over reporting chronic depression in the past 12 months, by sex, 2014 or nearest year
This article presents an overview of the statistics relevant to mental well-being and social support across the European Union (EU). It focuses on the most frequent and serious mental health problem affecting well-being, depression, which is described through indicators reflecting its chronic presence (chronic depression) and its current incidence (current depressive symptoms). The second part of the article reflects on social support — considered as a means against the development of mental health problems — and elaborates on respondents’ overall assessment of the extent and easiness of getting support from their social environment in difficult life situations.
Prevalence of chronic depression
Depressive problems can be long-standing or intermittent. In particular, long-term depression when accompanied by severe symptoms may end up in a serious health condition. The second wave of the European health interview survey (EHIS) collected self-reported data on chronic diseases (including depression) which occurred during the twelve months prior to the survey.
Self-reported chronic depression exceeded 10 % of persons aged 15 and over in Ireland, Portugal, Germany and Finland
In 2014, some 7.1 % of the EU-28 population aged 15 and over reported suffering from chronic depression in the 12 months prior to the survey. Among the EU Member States, the highest rates were recorded in Ireland, Portugal, Germany and Finland, each with shares of at least 10.5 % to 12.1 %, while this share was also relatively high in Iceland (14.8 %) and Turkey (11.0 %). In contrast, chronic depression accounted for a share of less than 4 % in the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Romania — see Figure 1.
Women were more likely to report chronic depression than men
As shown in Figure 1, a higher proportion of women than men in the EU-28 suffered from chronic depression in the 12 months prior to the survey (8.8 % compared with 5.3 %). This pattern was repeated across all EU Member States but it was more evident, in terms of the differences between the two sexes, in Latvia (5.5 percentage points difference) and Spain (a difference of 5.9 percentage points) and most pronounced in Portugal (a difference of 11.3 percentage points). Turkey also recorded a difference of 7.1 percentage points between women and men. At the other end of the scale, the smallest differences were observed in Romania, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic.
In 2014, about 9 % of older persons in the EU-28 suffered from chronic depression
Looking at the reference population (persons aged 15 and over), it seems that a relationship exists between the prevalence of self-reported chronic depression and age (Table 1). Overall, at EU-28 level, persons in the middle age group (persons aged 45–64) and older persons were affected more frequently by chronic depression compared to the younger people (aged 15–44).
At national level, in ten EU Member States, the share of persons who reported suffering from chronic depression in the 12 months prior to the survey, was higher among persons aged 45–64 as compared to the younger and older age groups. In a second group comprising 15 countries the pattern was different: the prevalence of chronic depression increased with increasing age. The largest gaps between the older and the younger age groups were observed in Portugal, Italy, Spain, Croatia and Lithuania. An opposite pattern, where the respective share for chronic depression was inversely related to age was recorded in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, as well as Iceland. In the latter four countries, younger people (aged 16–44) reported chronic depression more frequently than persons aged 45–64 and older. In particular, Iceland recorded a considerably large difference between the shares reported by the younger and older persons (9.4 percentage points difference).
Current depressive symptoms
The second wave of the EHIS used eight questions for screening symptoms through which depression is expressed. The indicator compiled from them is used as an instrument for assessing and monitoring the prevalence and severity of current depressive symptoms, symptoms that occurred during the two weeks prior to the survey.
Almost 10 % of the population in Luxembourg suffered from at least moderate current depressive symptoms
Within the EU-28, about 14 % of the population aged 15 and over suffered from mild depressive symptoms over the two weeks prior to the survey, while another 6.3 % reported at least moderate symptoms of depression (Figure 2). That signifies that depressive symptoms, independently of their severity, affected slightly more than one fifth of the Europeans during the two weeks before the survey.
Before looking at the variations in the severity levels of current depressive symptoms across countries, it is noted that more than one in four persons in Luxembourg (32.3 %), Germany (31.8 %), Portugal (25.8 %), Estonia (25.6 %), Hungary (25.5 %) as well as Iceland (33.5 %) and Turkey (29.5 %) was affected by symptoms of depression. The lowest shares of persons with current depressive symptoms, reaching a maximum of 12 % were observed in Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and the Czech Republic.
Concerning mild current depressive symptoms, the share of persons with such symptoms during the two weeks prior to the survey was more pronounced in Germany and Luxembourg (both 22.5 %), as well as Iceland (23.2 %) and Turkey (23.0 %). Experiencing at least moderate depressive symptoms was more prevalent — at a share that exceeded 8 % of the reference population — in Luxembourg, Germany, Portugal, Sweden and Hungary, as well as in Iceland. In addition, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Denmark, France, Estonia and Bulgaria were also among the countries in which the respective rate was higher than the EU-28 average (6.3 %). Looking in more detail, the share of the population with at least moderate current depressive symptoms made up more than 35 % of the total population with current depressive symptoms in the United Kingdom (39.6 %), Bulgaria (36.7 %), Sweden (35.8 %) and Portugal (35.7 %).
Persons with tertiary educational attainment were less likely to report suffering from at least moderate current depressive symptoms across all EU Member States
Figure 3 shows the percentage of the population that suffered from at least moderate current depressive symptoms in 2014, according to their educational level. At EU-28 level, this share did not exceed 4 % among those with a higher level of educational attainment, whereas it reached 5.9 % for persons having completed upper secondary or post-secondary non-tertiary education and 8.7 % for those having completed at most lower secondary education.
The pattern of increasing at least moderate current depressive symptoms with decreasing educational attainment was evident across all EU Member States with one exception: in Finland the highest proportion of people with at least moderate current depressive symptoms was not recorded for those with at most lower secondary education (5.5 %) but for those having completed upper secondary and post-secondary non-tertiary education (5.7 %).
Additionally, it is noted that the proportion of persons with at least moderate current depressive symptoms among those with the lowest educational attainment level was more than four times higher than the respective proportion for those with tertiary education in Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Romania, Italy and Slovakia.
The share of persons with at least moderate current depressive symptoms increased with decreasing income
A further analysis of the prevalence of at least moderate current depressive symptoms with level of income reveals that persons in the lowest income quintile group (the 20 % of the population with the lowest income) were most affected by depression (see Figure 4). In 2014, the share of the Europeans in the first income quintile who reported experiencing at least moderate depressive symptoms over the two weeks prior to the survey (10.5 %) was nearly twice as high as the respective share for those in the third income quintile (5.9 %) and more than three times higher than that for people in the fifth income quintile (the 20 % of the population with the highest income) (3.3 %).
At country level, Ireland was the only exception to this general pattern, since its lowest rate was recorded among those in the middle income quintile group. Additionally, Ireland was at the top of the ranking in terms of the share reported by its population in the highest income quintile group (8.0 %), well ahead of Luxembourg (5.3 %) and Germany (5.2 %) that were next in the ranking. As for people in the lowest income quintile group, at least moderate current depressive symptoms rates varied widely across countries, from 3.5 % in Lithuania to 15.2 % in the United Kingdom, 15.7 % in Germany and 17.8 % in Hungary. In addition, these latter three countries that recorded the highest rates in the prevalence of at least moderate current depressive symptoms, had the largest differences in the respective rates among people in the lowest and highest income groups (10.5 percentage points or more).
Having a supportive social environment can be a preventive factor for health problems but it can also enhance good mental well-being. Social support is conceptualised in different components, encompassing the quantity of the support, i.e. in terms of the size of the network of close persons to rely on in difficult life situations, the degree of concern and interest shown by other people in everyday life matters, as well as the easiness of obtaining practical help from neighbours when necessary.
Social support is also expressed through informal care provision, i.e. care activities provided by non-professionals. This covers the provision of assistance to persons with age problems, chronic conditions or infirmity in order to cope with daily personal and household activities. The effectiveness of informal care provision depends mainly societal and cultural factors, such as family and extended family relations, community relations, etc.
Poor social support was more frequently reported in Romania and Greece
In 2014, more than one third of the EU-28 population aged 15 and over perceived that they had strong social support, as shown in Figure 5. In five EU Member States, namely the United Kingdom, Cyprus, Croatia, Austria and Spain, as well as Iceland, more than half of the population indicated strong social support. Conversely, the same perception was shared by less than one fifth of the population in Romania, Slovakia and Latvia. A majority of Europeans reported an intermediate level of social support (50.4 %), with the lowest values in Spain (35.9 %), Austria (37.2 %), Croatia (38.7 %) and the United Kingdom (39.9 %), as well as Iceland (36.1 %). Nonetheless, 15.5 % of the Europeans perceived that they had poor social support, a share that exceeded 20 % in Finland, France, Latvia, Slovakia, Greece and Romania.
Looking at age group differences (Figure 6), more elderly Europeans (18.2 %) than middle-aged (aged 45–64) and younger ones (aged 15–44) perceived having poor social support. Among Member States, the most prevalent pattern was similar to the one observed at EU level: poor social support increased with age. In eight EU Member States, self-perceived poor social support peaked among the middle age group, covering those aged 45–64, while in another two countries (Ireland and Iceland) the highest share was recorded by those in the younger age group (aged 15–44).
In 2013, more than 9 in 10 Europeans had someone to rely on in case of need
In 2013, the ad-hoc module on subjective well-being implemented in the survey EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) captured, among others, Europeans’ views on social support in terms of having a person to rely on in case of need.
Overall, 93.3 % of the EU-28 population declared that they had someone to rely on when needed. The share was relatively high across all Member States; it ranged from 84.7 % in Luxembourg to 98.6 % in Slovakia. Figure 7 focuses on the distribution of the population who reported that they had someone to rely on in case of need in 2013 across the three income quintile groups, specifically the highest, middle and lowest quintiles. The pattern was uniform across all EU Member States, with the lowest shares of people having someone to rely on being recorded for the first income quintile group, the highest shares for the fifth income quintile group, and shares for the third income quintile group between these two.
More than one quarter of the population in Denmark provided regular informal care or assistance to persons suffering from long-term health problems
Figure 8 presents the proportion of people providing informal care or assistance to persons suffering from long-term health problems at least once a week. About 15.6 % of the EU-28 population aged 15 or over provided frequent informal care or assistance to persons with health problems. The EU Member States where a relatively high proportion of persons provided such care included Denmark (26.8 %), Greece (21.0 %), the United Kingdom (20.4 %) and Latvia (20.3 %). Iceland also reported a high share of people providing informal care activities (27.3 %).
As shown in Figure 8, informal assistance is more frequently provided mainly to relatives rather than non-relatives. While informal care provision rates were 10 % or higher in 23 countries as far as relatives are concerned, the respective rate for non-relatives exceeded 5 % in only five Member States: Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Finland and Denmark, where it reached the highest value (8.2 %).
Source data for tables and graphs
The second wave of the European health interview survey (EHIS) is the source of information for the data presented in this article, with the exception of social support data (having a person to rely on in case of need), which are derived from the 2013 EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC) ad-hoc module.
The second wave of the EHIS was conducted in all EU Member States during 2013–2015 according to European Commission Regulation (EU) No 141/2013 and its subsequent amendment to take account of the accession of Croatia to the EU (European Commission Regulation (EU) No 68/2014).
The general coverage of the EHIS is the population aged 15 or over living in private households residing in the national territory. This source is documented in more detail in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions.
The 2013 EU-SILC ad-hoc module collected data on "Personal well-being" which are reflected through a number of subjective measures, such as overall life experience, satisfaction with different areas of life, trust in others and in institutions and social support (having someone to rely on in case of need). EU-SILC is documented in more detail in this background article which provides information on the scope of the data, its legal basis, the methodology employed, as well as related concepts and definitions. The general coverage of EU-SILC is all private households and their members (who are residents at the time of data collection); this therefore excludes people living in collective households. Data refer to the population aged 16 years or over.
In relation to mental well-being, the EHIS measures a range of indicators, which capture current depression symptoms aside from chronic depression.
- Data on chronic depression refer to the population aged 15 and over who reported having depression during the 12 months prior to the survey.
- Current depressive symptoms are characterised by problems such as loss of interest or pleasure in doing things, feelings of sadness or despair, feelings of tiredness, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, poor concentration, observable psychomotor agitation or retardation. The indicator stems from respondents who reported having such symptoms over the last two weeks prior to the survey. The severity of depressive symptoms is determined by their number and frequency.
Concerning social support, the EHIS collects data on social relationships which are reflected through the indicators on the overall perceived social support and the provision of regular informal care or assistance.
- Data on overall perceived social support encompass the amount of people to count or rely on in difficult life situations, the degree of interest and concern shown by other people and the ease of obtaining practical help from neighbours. The indicator is constructed according to the Oslo-3 Social Support Scale (OSS-3) instrument.
- The indicator on the provision of informal care or assistance refers to the population aged 15 and over who reported providing frequent (at least once a week) care or assistance to persons suffering from an age problem, chronic health condition or infirmity. Care or assistance is defined as help provided to other persons in undertaking personal care or activities of household care.
The availability of social support (having someone to rely on in case of need) derived from the EU-SILC 2013 ad-hoc module refers to the possibility to ask for help (any kind of help: moral, material or financial) from any relatives, friends or neighbours, whether the person needs it or not. Only relatives and friends (or neighbours) who don't live in the same household are considered.
Limitations of the data
The indicators presented in this article are derived from self-reported data so they are, to a certain extent, affected by respondents’ subjective perception as well as by their social and cultural background. In particular, the self-assessment of an individual’s health in terms of suffering from chronic depression may be subjectively reported.
Mental well-being is an important determinant associated with the quality of life of individuals, as well as the general progress of society; it is a contributing factor to improved social participation, economic growth and sustainable development, which constitute the primary objectives of the EU’s Lisbon Strategy.
The high prevalence of mental health problems in the EU and their associated burden on individuals, society and the economy make mental well-being a public health priority. Among the most widespread and serious mental health problems is depression, which is expected to be one of the most prevalent diseases by 2020.
For many years now, strategies urge actions for the adoption of practical measures for the treatment and prevention of mental health problems. A strategy for improving mental health across the EU, ‘Green paper — Towards a strategy on mental health of the European Union’ (COM(2005) 484 final) was adopted by the European Commission in 2005.
The EU high-level conference held in Brussels in 2008 welcomed the European Pact for mental health and well-being which called for action in five priority areas:
- prevention of depression and suicide;
- mental health in youth and education;
- mental health in workplace settings;
- mental health of older people;
- combating stigma and social exclusion.
The work developed under the EU Pact for mental health and well-being was further developed by the Joint action — mental health and well-being that was launched in 2013. The Joint Action aimed at the promotion of mental health and well-being, the prevention of mental disorders and the improvement of care services to persons with mental problems. It established the following five key areas:
- promotion of mental health in the workplace;
- promotion of mental health in schools;
- promoting action against depression and suicide and implementation of e-health approaches;
- developing community-based and socially inclusive mental health care for people with severe mental disorders; and
- promoting the integration of mental health in all policies.
The work undertaken by the Joint Action until 2016 is reflected in the Framework for Action on health and mental well-being, Final conference. It included the identification of the main advances, barriers and opportunities in each of the five priority areas. Social support, although important due to societal factors, is recognised as a preventive means against the development of mental health problems (both e.g. depression and somatic diseases). Public health policies invest in social support monitoring for assessing and planning of preventive interventions.
Indicators relevant to depression and social support are included in the health status and health determinants chapters of the European core health indicators (ECHI).
General health statistics articles
- Self-perceived health and well-being (hlth_sph)
- Self-reported chronic morbidity (hlth_srcm)
- Social environment (hlth_senv)
- EU-SILC ad-hoc modules (ilc_ahm)
- 2013 — Personal well-being indicators (ilc_pwb)
- 2013 — Personal well-being indicators (ESMS metadata file — ilc_pwb_esms)
- European health interview survey (EHIS) (ESMS metadata file — hlth_det_esms)
- Health variables of EU-SILC (ESMS metadata file — hlth_silc_01_esms)
- European Health Interview Survey (EHIS wave 2) — Methodological manual — 2013 edition