International Journal of Public Health

, Volume 57, Issue 2, pp 421–430 | Cite as

Measuring population mental health and social well-being

  • Eric Van Lente
  • Margaret M. Barry
  • Michal Molcho
  • Karen Morgan
  • Dorothy Watson
  • Janas Harrington
  • Hannah McGee
Original Article



This paper examines the relationships between indicators of positive and negative dimensions of mental health, social well-being and physical health.


The paper reports on data collected in the third National Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN 2007), a cross-sectional survey conducted with a representative sample of 10,364 Irish adults. The survey included measures of positive mental health and non-specific psychological distress from the SF-36 questionnaire, together with measures of social well-being, subjective health, and selected health behaviours.


Positive mental health is predicted by lower levels of loneliness and higher levels of social support. Better self-rated health, positive health behaviours and lower GP consultation rates are associated with higher levels of positive mental health. Lower levels of social well-being, were found to be the strongest predictors of negative mental health.


Social well-being and health behaviours correlate with both positive and negative mental health. These findings highlight the need to endorse comprehensive approaches to population mental health promotion. The inclusion of both positive and negative mental health indicators in future population health surveys is supported by the findings.


Population mental health Social well-being 


  1. Achtmeyer C (2003) Frequently asked questions about audit-C for clinicians 9/5/03. Accessed May 2011
  2. Barry MM, Friedli L (2008) The influence of social, demographic and physical factors on positive mental health in children, adults and older people. In: Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project. State-of-Science Review: SR-B3. Government Office of Science and Innovation, London, UKGoogle Scholar
  3. Barry MM, van Lente E, Molcho M, Morgan K, McGee H, Conroy R, Watson D, Shelley E, Perry I, SLÁN 2007 (2009) Mental Health and Social Well-being Report. Department of Health and Children, DublinGoogle Scholar
  4. Blake C, Codd MB, O’Meara YM (2000) The short form 36 (SF-36) health survey: normative data for the Irish population. Ir J Med Sci 169(3):195–200PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Braunholtz S, Scotland Social Research (2007) Well? What Do You Think? (2006): The Third National Scottish Survey of Public Attitudes to Mental Health, Mental Wellbeing and Mental Health Problems. Scottish Government Social Research, EdinburghGoogle Scholar
  6. Brevik JI, Dalgard OS (1996) The Health Profile Inventory. University of Oslo, OsloGoogle Scholar
  7. Callan T, Nolan B, Whelan BJ, Whelan CT, Williams J (1996) Poverty in the 90 s: evidence from the 1994 Living in Ireland survey. Oak Tree Press, DublinGoogle Scholar
  8. Dalgard OS, Dowrick C, Lehtinen V, Vazquez-Barquero JL, Casey P, Wilkinson G, Ayuso-Mateos JL, Page H, Dunn G (2006) Negative life events, social support and gender difference in depression: a multinational community survey with data from the ODIN study. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 41(6):444–451PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Dear K, Henderson S, Korten A (2002) Well-being in Australia—findings from the National Survey of Mental Health and Well-being. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 37(11):503–509PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. European Commission (2005) Improving the mental health of the population: Towards a strategy on mental health for the European Union. Green Paper. Health and Consumer Protection Directorate, European Commission, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
  11. European Commission (2006) Eurostat, The core group on health interview survey (HIS): European health interview survey (Ehis) questionnaire. Accesssed May 2011
  12. European Opinion Research Group (2003) The mental health status of the European population. Accessed May 2011
  13. Foresight Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project (2008) Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, LondonGoogle Scholar
  14. Friedli L (2009) Mental health, resilience and inequalities. WHO Regional Office for Europe, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  15. Friedli L, Parsonage M (2007) Building an economic case for mental health promotion: part I. J Public Ment Health 6(3):14CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Hagströmer M, Oja P, Sjöström M (2007) The international physical activity questionnaire (IPAQ): a study of concurrent and construct validity. Public Health Nutr 9(6):755–762Google Scholar
  17. Harrington J, Perry IJ, Lutomski J, Fitzgerald AP, Sheily F, McGee H, Barry MM, Van Lente E, Morgan K, Shelley E (2010) Living longer and feeling better: healthy lifestyle, self-rated health, obesity and depression in Ireland. Eur J Public Health 20(1):91–95PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Harrison E, Rose D (2006) The European socio-economic classification (ESeC) user guide. Institute for Social and Economic Research Accessed May 2011
  19. Hennessy C, Moriarty D, Zack M, Scherr P, Brackbill R (1994) Measuring health-related quality of life for public health surveillance. Public Health Rep 109(5):665–672PubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Huppert FA, Whittington JE (2003) Evidence for the independence of positive and negative well-being: implications for quality of life assessment. Br J Health Psychol 2003(8):107–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Jenkinson C, Coulter A, Wright L (1993) Short form-36 (Sf-36) health survey questionnaire—normative data for adults of working age. BMJ 306(6890):1437–1440PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kessler RC (2007) The global burden of anxiety and mood disorders: putting the European study of the epidemiology of mental disorders (ESEMeD) findings into perspective. J Clin Psychiatry 68(Suppl 2):10–19PubMedGoogle Scholar
  23. Keyes CLM (2002) The mental health continuum: from languishing to flourishing in life. J Health Soc Behav 43(2):207–222PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Keyes CLM (2005) Mental illness and/or mental health? Investigating axioms of the complete state model of health. J Consulr Clin Psychol 73(3):539–548PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Kovess V, Beaudet M (2001) Concepts and measurement of positive mental health. Psychiatria Fennica 32(Supp 2):14–34Google Scholar
  26. Lavikainen J, Fryers T, Lehtinen V (2006) Improving mental health information in Europe. Proposal of the MINDFUL project (ed). STAKES, HelsinkiGoogle Scholar
  27. Lehtinen V, Sohlman B, Kovess-Masfety V (2005) Level of positive mental health in the European union: Results from the Eurobarometer 2002 survey. Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health 1:9PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Macintyre S, Annandale E, Ecob R, Ford G, Hunt K, Jamieson B, MacIver S (1989) The west of Scotland twenty-07 study: health in the community. In: Martin C, McQueen D (eds) Readings for a new public health. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp 56–74Google Scholar
  29. Melzer D, Fryers T, Jenkins R (2004) Social inequalities and the distribution of common mental disorders (eds). Maudsley Monograph 44, Psychology Press, Hove and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  30. Morgan K, McGee H, Watson D, Perry I, Barry MM, Shelley E, Harrington J, Molcho M, Layte R, Tully N, van Lente E, Ward M, Lutomski J, Conroy R, Brugha R (2008) SLÁN 2007: Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition in Ireland. Main Report. Department of Health and Children, Dublin (
  31. Nieboer P, Buijs C, Rodenhuis S, Seynaeve C, Beex LVAM, van der Wall E, Richel DJ, Nooij MA, Voest EE, Hupperets P et al (2005) Fatigue and relating factors in high-risk breast cancer patients treated with adjuvant standard or high-dose chemotherapy: a longitudinal study. J Clin Oncol 23(33):8296–8304PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Prince M, Patel V, Saxena S, Maj M, Maselko J, Phillips MR, Rahman A (2007) No health without mental health. Lancet 370:859–877PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Taylor M, Brice J, Buck N, Prentice-Lane E (2005) British household panel survey user manual volume A: introduction, technical report and appendices. University of Essex, ColchesterGoogle Scholar
  34. Ware JE, Snow KK, Kosinski M, Gandek B (1993) SF-36 health survey: manual and interpretation guide. The Health Institute, New England Medical Center, Boston, MAGoogle Scholar
  35. Williams SM, Saxena S, McQueen DV (2005) The momentum for mental health promotion. Promot Educ (Suppl 2):6–9Google Scholar
  36. World Health Organization (2002) Prevention and promotion in mental health. Mental Health: Evidence and Research. Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  37. World Health Organization (2003) Investing in mental health. Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence, Non-communicable Diseases and Mental Health. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  38. World Health Organization (2005) Mental health action plan for Europe. Facing the challenges, building solutions. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar
  39. World Health Organization Commission on the Social Determinants of Health (2008) Closing the gap in a generation: health equity through action on the social determinants of health. Final Report of the Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. World Health Organization, GenevaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Swiss School of Public Health 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eric Van Lente
    • 1
  • Margaret M. Barry
    • 1
  • Michal Molcho
    • 1
  • Karen Morgan
    • 2
  • Dorothy Watson
    • 3
  • Janas Harrington
    • 4
  • Hannah McGee
    • 2
  1. 1.Health Promotion Research CentreNational University of IrelandGalwayIreland
  2. 2.Royal College of Surgeons in IrelandDublinIreland
  3. 3.Economic and Social Research and Trinity CollegeDublinIreland
  4. 4.University College CorkCorkIreland

Personalised recommendations