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What? Who? And, how?: Discovering the depths of mental health data in UK longitudinal studies

Blog | | Louise Arseneault and Bridget Bryan

depressed teenage girlFollowing the launch of a new online catalogue which documents existing mental health and wellbeing measures collected by over 30 UK cohort and longitudinal studies, two of the platform’s creators – Louise Arseneault and Bridget Bryan – showcase the search engine’s potential for maximising the take-up of mental health measures in future longitudinal research.

Mental health awareness has been steadily increasing in recent years. Estimates of the extent and adverse impacts of mental health problems underline the urgent need for more research to better understand the causes and the consequences of mental ill health, and to identify the most effective interventions. Existing longitudinal and cohort studies provide unique opportunities to answer key questions related to population mental health and wellbeing. But what has been collected? By who? When? And, how?

Introducing the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures

As part of a CLOSER-funded research project, we have developed a searchable catalogue to help people find information about existing measures of mental health and wellbeing in UK cohort and longitudinal studies. The Catalogue of Mental Health Measures compiles and organises information about mental health measures in over 30 (and counting!) UK cohort and longitudinal studies. It features descriptions of the studies and the measures of mental health and wellbeing they have collected, as well as information about statistical resources and training. The catalogue improves the visibility and accessibility of these measures, making it easier for researchers from across different disciplines to make use of the incredibly rich mental health data currently available in the UK’s longitudinal studies.

Benefiting researchers and funders

Our new resource will be useful for as well as principal investigators and funding bodies. The Catalogue may be particularly useful for early career researchers utilising data that has already collected and researchers less familiar with the mental health field – but it may also hold some surprises for experienced mental health researchers!

Easy access to detailed information

Longitudinal study designs are advantageous as they allow for closely examining patterns of change and the influence of earlier life circumstances on later outcomes, as well as providing insight into causal mechanisms and processes. Our catalogue provides mental health researchers with easy access to detailed information about thousands of valuable measures of mental health in over 30 UK cohort and longitudinal studies. The search engine gives users the opportunity to explore by study, mental health topic and symptom, as well as by standard instruments, such as the General Health Questionnaire. Researchers can use the catalogue to identify specific measures collected in a range of different longitudinal study types, including representative samples, birth cohorts, twin studies, ageing studies, and studies focusing on specific mental health problems.

Researchers in the early stages of their career, who may not have the opportunity to collect new data first-hand, will find the catalogue’s focus on existing data particularly helpful. The catalogue allows users to explore established studies, quickly access detailed information about the mental health measures they have collected, and thus potentially identify previously unknown resources of use for their research.

Signposting to training and resources

The catalogue also signposts training and resources to support early career researchers build up their skills in order to utilise longitudinal mental health data more effectively. In particular, the statistical training page provides information about online resources , as well as short courses relevant to mental health research and longitudinal methods.

Stimulating interdisciplinary research

Several UK cohort and longitudinal studies have collected data that are used by researchers from disciplines ranging from economics to linguistics to genetics. In hand with the wealth of mental health and wellbeing measures collected in these studies, this provides the opportunity for interdisciplinary mental health research that can answer novel questions with real-world impact. With this in mind, the filter function enables users to identify cohorts that are well suited to studying mental health in relation to a number other topics, such as genetics, socioeconomic position and migration.

The catalogue also provides support for users not familiar with mental health research. The common measures of mental health page provides information about the most widely used measures listed in the catalogue and highlights key things for researchers to consider  before using a measure (such as its reliability in different population sub-groups) in their own projects.

Supporting study managers and funders

By gathering information about the mental health measures in British longitudinal studies in one place, the catalogue has the potential to quickly inform funders about the mental health data in their large investments and assist Principal Investigators (PIs) in the planning of future data collection. Study PIs who wish to maximise the comparability of their data to other studies can use the platform to quickly and easily find measures that have been used in past studies and sweeps. The Catalogue also highlights a number of also highlights a number of harmonisation projects, such as CLOSER’s project harmonising mental health measures from five British birth cohorts.

Looking to the future

We’re excited about the next steps of this project. Looking forward, we’re planning to expand the catalogue to include additional UK studies and a selection of international studies that meet the current inclusion criteria. We are also developing an expert panel who will feature on the platform to provide advice to new mental health researchers and support effective use of the valuable longitudinal data documented on the catalogue.

Further information

Explore the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures

Take a look at CLOSER’s Twitter summary from the Catalogue of Mental Health Measures launch event (18 November 2019).

Find out more information about this project, Maximising the take-up of mental health measures from UK cohorts and longitudinal studies.


Louise Arseneault is a Professor of Developmental Psychology at King’s College London and ESRC Mental Health Leadership Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @L_Arseneault

Bridget Bryan is a Research Associate at King’s College London. Follow her on Twitter @briddycent