Is mental health data more sensitive than physical health data?

Figures from the mental health charity MQ found that only 5.8% of the UK’s total health research budget is spent on mental illness.

As a comparison, for each person affected by mental illness, approximately £8 is invested in mental health research while around £176 per sufferer is invested in cancer research – meaning that mental health research receives 22 times less funding than cancer research.

But why is this the case, what can we do to change these figures and, importantly, could our health information hold the key to democratising research and, if so, should this data be used?

It was questions such as these which catalysed myself and my colleagues from The University of Manchester’s Centre for Health Informatics to bring together experts from across research, the NHS & mental health charities to dive deeper into mental health research, publicly debating the following;

Do you agree that mental health data is no more sensitive than physical health data and that both should be used equally in data linkage research?

Arguing that both types of data are equivalent and should be treated the same were:

Whilst arguing that physical and mental health data are intrinsically different and should be treated as such were:

  • Dr Julie Morton (Senior Lecturer in social work, University of Salford)
  • Dr Michelle O’Reilly (Associate Professor with the University of Leicester and Research Consultant with Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust)

Re-reading the figures above it’s not surprising that all our speakers unanimously agreed that we need to tackle mental health issues with the same energy and priority that we afford to physical ailments and that changes must be made in order to make this a reality.

However, the path to achieving this equality was contested. The speakers explored a range of topics including: how current legislations apply to different types of health data, how research practice might change if mental health data were actually declared more sensitive than physical, whether the data we currently have access to is sufficient to produce meaningful results in mental health research and how individuals would feel if their data were leaked.

The debate sparked poignant and thought provoking discussions between our speakers and the audience around mental health service provisions, stigma and how the use of data could improve the lives of those affected by mental illness. Leaving everyone involved with a lot to think about.

As part of the debate our audience were asked to participate in the discussion using electronic voting pads to anonymously cast their vote. Prior to hearing any of the speakers arguments, 75% of the audience either strongly agreed or agreed with our proposition (mental health data is no more sensitive than physical health data and that both should be used equally in data linkage research.) while 6% disagreed, 6% strongly disagreed and 13% were unsure.  Following the speaker’s presentations, the audience opinion began to diverge: 58% now either agreed or strongly agreed with the proposition while 38% disagreed or strongly disagreed, 4% remained unsure. The most significant shift in opinion was in the category ‘disagree’ which leaped from having only 6% of the overall vote prior to the debate to garnering a further 27% after.

Analysis from a questionnaire posed to audience members suggested that the speakers had managed to highlight the nuances within this subject but had not put audience members off sharing their data for research purposes. For example: although 10 of the 21 audience members who completed the questionnaire believed that mental health data was more sensitive than physical health data, 14 believed that it should still be treated the same as physical health data when used in research and 16 were willing to share their own data with researchers. The audience expanded on these views stating that stigma and negative societal attitudes surrounding mental health make this data more sensitive but that mental health research is in the public interest and that the rewards of this research outweigh the challenges.

You can watch the complete debate below

Please let us know your thought in the comments section!

Post by: Sarah Fox

17 thoughts on “Is mental health data more sensitive than physical health data?”

  1. mate your site is really cool, but it has a poor Domain Authority
    sad truth is that sites with poor Domain Authority won’t rank high in Google and in result get very little of traffic
    I had the same problem in the past and my website didn’t rank high in Google
    I searched for a professional who would help me with it; found one guy who really helped me rank higher in Google and increase my Domain Authority to 58! I’m super happy with this score
    Contact him: (his prices are very reasonable for the service he provides)

  2. There was an overarching consensus from all speakers that we need to tackle mental health issues with the same energy and priority that we afford to physical ailments and that changes must be made in order to make this a reality.

  3. Interesting article.
    Important topics were discussed and very intelligent people participated in it.
    It is nice to see that there are such clever people who develop science further.

  4. I think the potential for someone to use mental health problems maliciously is far greater than with physical health problems. If people learn that a certain person has dementia, they can easily take advantage of them financially. They can’t do so when they know someone is suffering with a physical illness (at least not to the same degree).

  5. There seem to be far more data breaches when it comes to physical health compared to mental health. That doesn’t mean the data is more sensitive, but maybe sorting out data security in hospitals is more pressing because of the frequent breaches.

  6. Thanks for sharing. We provide full support for all your Arlo devices, including guidance for your netgear extender setup . So if you are having issues with connecting to the Wifi or configure settings on the Arlo app, then contact us using our live chat services or our email. You can also call us using our customer support phone number.

  7. Help us make more transplants possible!
    Healthy Kidney donors are urgently needed from all blood groups, Please help donate and encourage others to sign up for organ and tissue donation. Here we offer financial reward to interested donors. Kindly contact us if you are interested at:

  8. Kidney-donor-needed in MEDICAL CENTER..
    CONTACT US via Email ID: OR

  9. It’s hard to say one thing for sure. Mental problems have been underestimated for many years, and now many of them remain poorly understood. I am not a specialist and have no influence, but personally, I would like to see more research done on mental problems.

  10. Hello all, I never thought I would write a review about this dating site. I liked it so much that I want to share my experiences, maybe someone will find it useful.So, at the beginning: this is the second dating site that I have ever registered. The first was 4 years ago Loveplanet. I don’t want to compare them because I haven’t been to the second one for a long time and I think they are completely different sites ukrainian brides . Dating site which has very attractive ukrainian brides helped me to find the love of my life.


Leave a Comment

Share This