Date Published: 20 April 2011

Adult Learning tackles depression and anxiety

Mental Health issues - UK

Adult Learning tackles depression and anxiety according to a recent report that specifically demonstrates the benefits of local authority-funded adult learning in tackling depression and anxiety.

Warnings that spending cuts for adult learning courses could prove a false economy in terms of tackling the burden of mental health problems on the economy and society stem from new research results, published in the Mental Health Foundation's Learning for Life report. This recent report indicates that people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety benefit from significant and lasting improvements in their symptoms as a result of courses (adult education and learning).

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental disorders in the UK and unfortunately put a significant burden on both the well-being of the population and the economy. Official figures indicate that at least 9% of the adult population are affected by mixed anxiety and depression, and a further 4.4% have General Anxiety Disorder and 2.3% suffer from depression. In terms of costs to the general economy recent (2008) figures indicate that an estimated fifth of lost working days each year are due to anxiety and depression.

Using the industry standard Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) to assess Northampton PCT and Northampton County Council's 'Learn 2b' adult learning programme, Learning for Life found that between the start and completion of the adult learning course, symptoms of depression and anxiety reduced by an average of 26% and 22% respectively. Follow up after six and 12 months indicated even more considerable improvements, with average reductions in depressive and anxiety symptoms reaching 35% and 31% respectively compared to pre-course levels.

Commenting on government policy towards adult learning, Simon Lawton-Smith, Head of Policy at the Mental Health Foundation, said:

" The Coalition Government has stated that adult learning is a necessity rather than a luxury, and the findings of our Learning for Life report support this. However, given the Coalition's real-terms reduction in the Adult Safeguarding Learning fund and their cuts to the local authority formula grant, local authorities may find themselves under increasing pressure to axe adult learning services. Learning for Life has shown the value of these services in tackling mental health problems, and given the huge economic and social burden of poor mental health ? an estimated £105bn in the UK annually at last count ? we need to be very careful that cuts to such services don't end up costing us more, both in human and economic terms, than they save".

Commenting on the implications of the research findings for the treatment of mental health problems, Dr Dan Robotham, Senior Researcher at the Mental Health Foundation and lead author of the Learning for Life report, said:

"The Learning for Life study has shown that community-based adult learning programmes can be very effective in combatting mild to moderate depression, without the stigma and fear so often attached to traditional mental health therapies. In these times of financial pressures, we look forward to such approaches being considered more extensively by mental health commissioners, as part of a more cost-effective alternative or supplement to existing high-cost specialist mental health support".


References to Papers:

  1. NHS Information Centre (2009), Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England:
  2. Das-Munshi J, Goldberg D, Bebbington PE, Bhugra DK, Brugha TS, Dewey ME et al. (2008) Public health significance of mixed anxiety and depression: beyond current classification. Br J Psychiatry, 192(3):171-177.

Source: Mental Health Foundation, UK -

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