One in four adults has been diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage during their lifetime, the annual health survey for England suggests.

The survey asked 5,000 adults and found 26% said they had received a mental health illness diagnosis. Depression was the most frequently reported mental illness, with nearly one in five (19%) people saying they had been diagnosed with the condition.

One in Four

Women were more likely than men to have depression, the survey found.

Other findings in the survey include:

◾Half of those who reported being diagnosed with a common mental disorder said that they had experienced the condition in the past 12 months
◾3% of men and 5% of women reported they had self-harmed
◾4% of men and 7% of women reported suicide attempts
◾In terms of depression – including post-natal depression – 24% of women reported having had the condition at some stage, compared with 13% of men

The survey makes a distinction between common and serious mental health disorders, with common ones being conditions such as anxiety and phobias while serious conditions are illnesses such as bipolar, eating disorders and schizophrenia.

The survey found that rates of ever being diagnosed with a common mental disorder were higher among women at 31% than men at 17%.

Attitudes and prejudice towards mental health were also examined by the research.

It found that 19% of adults thought “one of the main causes of mental illness is a lack of self-discipline and willpower”.

The survey also asked specific questions and found that 18% of people thought “most women who were once patients in a mental hospital can be trusted as babysitters”, but 20% did not know

Rachel Craig, from the National Centre for Social Research which carried out study, said: “This survey leaves us in no doubt as to the prevalence of mental ill health in England.

“Despite it affecting so many of us, prejudice against people with a mental illness still exists and there is some resistance to the provision of community care for people suffering with mental ill health.

“Men are more likely to hold prejudiced and less tolerant views than women. But there is evidence that if you know someone with a mental illness you are less likely to hold negative views.”

Alison Neave, a statistician for the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), said: “We hope that these new data will be useful to commissioners of mental health services.”

The last look at prevalence of mental disorders in England was in 2007. That survey, called Adult Psychiatric Morbidity in England, found that 23% of respondents reported had a mental illness in that year.

Earlier in the week Prime Minister David Cameron promised an “all-out assault on poverty” with a series of social reforms to include better mental health services and mentoring schemes.

Mr Cameron used a speech to promise action on “treatable problems”, including mental illnesses and addiction.

Calling for a “more mature” conversation about mental health, he said new mothers and teenagers with anorexia would be among those to benefit from £1bn extra cash that was allocated in the Autumn Statement.

He also pledged more psychiatric support in hospital A&E departments and for community services.