The Best UK Cities for Mental Wellbeing: Mapped

As Covid-19 cases spiked and the UK went into lockdown, mental wellbeing was thrust suddenly into the forefront of our collective consciousness. Almost two years later, people across the UK continue to report feelings of isolation, stress and anxiety, due in part to lack of socialisation and inaccessibility of mental health services. 

Earlier this month, wellness experts UK Saunas launched an exclusive study to determine which areas of the UK were best for promoting mental health. The study identified five factors known to impact psychological wellbeing: the wait time to access NHS IAPT services, access to green space, access to gyms and wellness centres, and air quality. Data was then collected and analysed from 48 cities across the UK. Each city was ranked on its ability to provide an environment conducive to promoting mental wellbeing. 

Key findings

  • Sheffield ranked highest overall, scoring a total of 141 points. Lincoln came last, scoring only 43 points. 
  • Wakefield ranked top for NHS IAPT waiting time, with prospective patients only waiting an average of 5 days prior to their initial consultation. Bristol, meanwhile, was ranked the lowest, with an average waiting time of 83.6 days. Many patients had to wait over two months following initial referral to speak to a healthcare professional. 
  • London, perhaps unsurprisingly, ranked lowest in terms of “green space”. Less than 1% of Londonis officially categorised as green space. Hereford ranked highest, with a massive 98% of space comprised of farmland, green urban land and natural land. 
  • Hull was found to have the worst air quality at the time of writing, with an AQI score of 83. Coventry and Cambridge, conversely, were found to have the best air quality, with AQI scores of 9. 
  • London had the highest concentration of gyms per 100 000 people, with a score of 89.2. Wells, conversely, had the lowest number of gyms per 100 000 people, scoring just 0.12. 
  • The West Midlands had the highest concentration of spas per 100 000 people, with a score of 2.6. The North East, meanwhile, scored the lowest, scoring just 0.7. 

Collected Data

Data Analysis

The Best Cities for Mental Wellbeing: Mapped

Top 10 Cities for Wellness

Top 20 Cities for Mental Wellbeing 

City NHS IATP Wait Time Green Space Air Quality Number of Gyms Number of Spas Total
Sheffield 40 28 28 43 2 141
Durham 22 44 32 40 1 139
Chester 8 39 37 46 6 136
Wakefield 48 30 21 35 2 136
Nottingham 35 10 42 45 3 135
York 44 36 31 22 2 135
Birmingham 30 9 40 47 8 134
Coventry 19 18 48 34 8 127
Derby 38 15 43 28 3 127
Canterbury 26 38 15 39 5 123
Truro 31 42 41 2 7 123
Sunderland 47 25 18 32 1 123
Bradford 39 31 8 41 2 121
Wolverhampton 45 4 29 30 8 116
Southampton 37 3 45 25 5 115
Norwich 41 11 44 16 3 115
Winchester 36 45 17 11 5 114
Hereford 2 48 33 20 8 111
Lancaster 24 43 20 17 6 110
Bath 34 40 23 6 7 110

Spotlight on Green Spaces 

Over the last two years, access to green spaces such as parks has become more vital than ever. For many, outdoor exercise was an important break from the monotony and isolation of lockdown. For many, however, green spaces remain inaccessible. A recent report, for example, indicates that around 2.5 million people live more than a ten-minute walk from a park or green space.

Exercise, green spaces and mental wellbeing are intrinsically linked. Urban living is a relatively new invention, with the oldest cities only 6000 years. Only in the last decade have we become a “majority-urban” species. We have something of a natural affinity with green spaces, and they have been proved to boost joy and reduce anxiety. Some scientists even believe that they make life feel more meaningful. To highlight the importance of parks, forests and countryside, wellness experts UK Saunas ranked UK cities by volume of green space. 

The UK’s Greenest Cities 

The UK’s Greenest Cities

Hereford was found to be the greenest city, with only 2% of the city and surrounding area classified as “built-on”. 98% comprises farmland, natural and green urban. Hereford boasts an extensive variety of parks, forests and open spaces.

The Most Built-Up Cities in the UK

The UK’s most Built-Up Cities

London, perhaps unsurprisingly, was found to be the most “built-up” city. Less than 1% of land can be considered as “green urban”, and there is no remaining farmland or natural land. Although London has a number of beautiful parks, they remain inaccessible to a great number of residents.  

Spotlight on Air Pollution 

For decades, scientists have warned about a correlation between high levels of air pollution and deterioration of physical health. One-third of deaths from lung cancer, strokes, and heart disease, in fact, are attributed to air pollution.  Recent research, however, also links high levels of air pollution with more severe mental illness. A study of 13, 000 people in London, for example, found that a relatively minor increase in exposure to nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant, resulted in an increased chance of a person requiring psychological treatment. Older research, too, links exposure to air pollution with significant increases in depression and anxiety. 

During Lockdown, air quality in many cities began to improve, with fewer people commuting and using public transport. Decreases in levels of nitrogen dioxide and small particle pollution were particularly evident. As commuting increases, it is unclear whether this trend will continue. Wellness experts at UK Saunas used Air Quality Index data to determine which cities were the most polluted at the time of writing. 

Least Polluted Cities

The UK’s Least Polluted Cities

At the time of writing, the lowest levels of air pollution were recorded in Coventry and Cambridge. Both cities recorded AQI scores of 9. AQI, or air quality index, is used to measure the quality of air across the globe. The higher the AQI, the greater the level of air pollution. An AQI score below 50 signifies that pollution poses little or no risk. AQI scores above 51, however, may signify risk, particularly to more vulnerable people. 

Cities with the Highest AQI Score at the Time of Writing

City AQI Score
Kingston upon Hull 83
Salford 75
London 74
Leeds 74
Brighton and Hove 67
Lincoln 66
Plymouth 65
Bradford 65
Manchester 61
Wells 57

Spotlight on Access to Mental Health Services

The city with the highest AQI score at the time of writing was Kingston Upon Hull. Last year, Kingston Upon Hull was identified as one of the worst cities in the UK for air pollution. In a single year, the city recorded 128 deaths relating to air quality. Salford and London also ranked highly, with AQI scores of 75 and 74 respectively.

In 2008, the UK launched an ambitious programme to improve mental health services across the country. In the past year, the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme has supported more than one million people nationwide and is considered to be one of the most ambitious efforts by any country to improve mental health services. The IAPT programme aims to support people with anxiety and depression, primarily with CBT, or cognitive behaviour therapy. 

Approximately 5.9 people per 100 currently suffer from generalised anxiety, according to mental health charity Mind. 3.3 people per 100 suffer from depression, and 4.4 people per 100 have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

For many people, being able to access support quickly is crucial. According to recent data released by NHS IAPT, however, there are significant discrepancies in ease of accessing mental health services across the UK. In some cities, patients experience lengthy waiting times following initial referral.

Cities with the Shortest Average Wait Time Between Initial Referral and First Appointment

Which Cities have the Most Accessible Mental Health Services?

Wakefield was the city with the lowest average wait time between initial referral to the NHS and first appointments, with patients waiting just 5 days before receiving a consultation with a healthcare professional. Sunderland and Oxford also ranked highly, with an average wait time of 5.1 and 7.4 days respectively. 

Cities with the Longest Average Wait Time Between Initial Referral and First Appointment

Which Cities have the Least Accessible Mental Health Services?

Bristol was the city with the highest average wait time between initial referral to the NHS and first appointments, with patients waiting 93.6 days before receiving a consultation with a healthcare professional. Wait times in Hereford and Leicester were also lengthy, with an average time of 64.5 days and 54.6 days respectively. 

Spotlight On: Access to Gyms and Wellness Centres

Studies demonstrate that physical exercise promotes psychological wellbeing by reducing anxiety and depression and alleviating negative moods. During the pandemic, exercise equipment sales spiked by 5800%. As Covid-19 restrictions lifted, millions of people renewed their gym and leisure centre memberships. It is estimated that 7 million Brits will hold a gym membership by 2022. 

We looked at gym, spa and wellness centre statistics to assess accessibility across the UK. 

Cities with the Highest Number of Gyms Per 100 000 People 

Cities with the most gyms per 100 000 people

London ranked highest in this category, with 89.82 gyms per 100 000 people, a significantly higher concentration of gyms than any other city in the country. Birmingham also scored highly, with 11.49 gyms per 100 000 people. Conversely, Wells ranked lowest, with only 0.12 gyms per 100 000 people. 

Cities with the Lowest Concentration of Gyms Per 100 000 People

City Population Gyms in directory Number of gyms per 100 000 people
Wells 12,000 20 0.12
Truro 18,766 34 0.18766
Chichester 23,731 64 0.23731
Lichfield 33,816 117 0.33816
Salisbury 45,000 29 0.45
Bath 88,859 163 0.88859
St Albans 89177 91 0.89177
Lincoln 97,541 57 0.97541
Worcester 101,328 67 1.01328
Carlisle 108,678 18 1.08678

Methodology 

NHS IATP 

Data collected from: https://app.powerbi.com/view?r=eyJrIjoiNmViYTdjM2MtODk0Yi00NTAxLWE5MTUtMGJhZDVhMWM3OWI1IiwidCI6IjUwZjYwNzFmLWJiZmUtNDAxYS04ODAzLTY3Mzc0OGU2MjllMiIsImMiOjh9 (NHS Digital). 

  • We identified which Clinical Commissioning Group represented each city and found out the mean waiting time from a patient’s initial referral to mental health service to the first appointment. 
  • London is represented by multiple CCGs, so we calculated an average waiting time. Each city was given a score based on the length of time between referral and treatment. Those with the fewest days scored highest. 

“Green Space”

Data collected from: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-41901294 

  • We used the BBC Green Space Calculator to determine the volume of green space in each city, We added the totals for farmland, “green urban” and natural land. Each city was given a score based on the total volume of green space. Those with the highest volume of green space scored highest. 

Air Quality 

Data collected from: https://www.iqair.com/uk

  • We used IQAir to determine the AQI score for each UK city. Each city was given a score based on its AQI score. Those with the lowest AQI score scored highest. 

Number of gyms 

Data collected from: https://directory.independent.co.uk/gyms/in/uk 

  • We used the Independent Directory to calculate the number of gyms in each city. 

Number of spas 

Data collected from: https://goodspaguide.co.uk/directory

  • We used the Good Spa Guide to calculate the number of spas in each UK region. We then calculated the population of each region to find out the total number of spas and wellness centres per 100 000 people. 

 

Stress No.1 Reason Brits Miss Work (& Costs Employers £4541 Per Employee Every Year)

A new study by UK Sauna’s wellbeing specailists has investigated the number of employees taking time off due to a range of work-induced illnesses.

Using a combination of data from HSE, ONS, and local search, the study seeks to answer the questions: how many employees are missing work because of work-related stress; how have these trends changed over the past 5 years; where in the UK is this issue most prevalent; which employees are the most impacted by work-related stress; and how much is stress costing UK businesses?

Key Findings

  • Employees in Britain missed an estimated 32, 520, 000 days of work in 2020
  • Work-related stress, anxiety, and depression constituted almost 50% of days missed from work in 2020.
  • Both the prevalence and incidence of work-related stress, depression, and anxiety have dramatically increased since 2014
  • 21% of Google searches for terms relating to stress at work were made in South East England.
  • Kent has the highest proportion of stressed-out employees in the UK.
  • Women experienced more work-related stress than men between 2017-2020, particularly those in the 25-34 age group.
  • Absences due to work-related stress, anxiety, and depression cost employers an average of £4541 per employee every year.

WHY UK EMPLOYEES MISSED WORK LAST YEAR

GRAPH 1: Reasons UK Employees Missed Work Last Year

In 2020, employees in Britain missed an estimated 32, 520, 000 days of work. Job-related stress, anxiety and depression made up almost 50% of this statistic. This costed employers an average of £4541 per employee each year.

Reasons UK employees missed work in 2020

 

Since 2014, the number of people experiencing work-related stress, anxiety and depression has increased at an unprecedented rate. In 2020 , 820, 000 UK employees reported feeling stressed out at work, citing office politics, lack of interdepartmental communications, job performance and tensions with managers as primary causes. According to experts, Covid-19 has not contributed significantly to work-related stress, suggesting, worryingly, that rates will continue to increase following the conclusion of the pandemic.

GRAPH 2: Days Lost for Work-related Stress, Anxiety and Depression

Days lost due to stress, anxiety or depression, 2014-2020, and predicted days lost 2021-2024

In 2014, an estimated 1,247 (thousands) people were suffering from work-related stress, depression and anxiety.  By 2020, this figure had increased by over 30%. If the current trend continues, the prevalence of work related stress, depression and anxiety will increase a further 30% by 2024. 

WHERE THE MOST STRESSED EMPLOYEES LIVE

According to additional research into local keyword data, the South East of England has the highest levels of workplace-stress.

MAP 1: The Highest Number of Searches Relating to Work-place Stress (Per Region)

The most stressed out employees in the UK, per region (according to local search data)

21% of searches for terms relating to stress at work were made in South East England, with Kent being the worst-hit county in the UK. Conversely, Wales was found to be the most content region with only a 1% share of searches. 

MAP 2: The Top 10 Locations with Searches Relating to Work-place Stress (Per County)

Kent is home to the most stressed out employees in Britain, followed by Surrey and Cheshire.

Top UK locations for stressed out employees, per county, 1-10, highest-lowest (according to local search volume)

 

TABLE 1: The Top 10 Most Stressful Places for Employees

Position Location Impressions Population County Region
1 West Malling 7.6 2,223 Kent South East England
2 Hindhead 7.6 4,595 Surrey South East England
3 Tattenhall 7.6 4,841 Cheshire North West England
4 Odiham 7.6 5,721 Hampshire South East England
5 Bagshot 7.48 5,920 Surrey South East England
6 Pontefract 30.41 31,000 West Yorkshire  North England
7 Hook 7.6 7,770 Hampshire South East England
8 Portlethen 7.48 9,090 Aberdeenshire  Scotland
9 Alloa 15.21 20,730 Clackmannanshire  Scotland
10 Iver 7.6 12,189 Buckinghamshire  South East England

WHO IS THE MOST AFFECTED?

In 2020, women experienced considerably more stress, depression and anxiety than their male counterparts. The highest incidences of stress, anxiety, and depression were reported by women in the 25-34 age group.

GRAPH 3: Rates of Absence Relating to Stress, Anxiety or Depression (by gender)

This could be attributed to lower pay, lack of potential for career progression, job insecurity and limited flexibility in regard to working hours. 

HOW CAN MANAGERS TACKLE BURNOUT?

Increasingly, businesses are implementing schemes to improve physical comfort at work. Many employers ask, for example, that employees complete work-station risk assessments, seeking to encourage good posture and regular breaks from screens. This appears effective, with the prevalence of health issues traditionally associated with the workplace, such as Musculoskeletal Disorders, decreasing in comparison to previous years.

With work-related stress, anxiety, and depression on the rise, however, it begs the question; should employees be doing more for mental wellbeing?

In April 2019, the World Health Organisation officially recognised the concept of “burnout” as an occupational phenomenon.

With almost half of us experiencing stress at work on a daily basis, finding an effective solution is crucial. When asked about their work-related stress, anxiety or depression, many respondents identified their manager as the cause.

Fortunately, there are numerous strategies that managers can use to reduce employee stress. In recent months, industry experts have emphasised the importance of resilience. Building resilience encourages employees to respond to potential stressors positively, and enables them to adapt to rapidly changing environments. Cultivation of a positive organisational culture is crucial when building resilient teams. Support, rather than criticise employees that may be struggling with deadlines.

Managers should ensure effective, open communication and practice active listening, checking in regularly with employees and addressing potential concerns. Flexible work policies can be implemented to demonstrate trust between manager and employee. Encourage your team to practice self-care. Regular exercise, such as Pilates, yoga, and walking can be great ways to combat stress, anxiety and depression. 

Methodology 

Data visualisation 1 – Days lost from work due to work related stress, anxiety and depression

We analysed quantitative data from Health and Safety England which showed the number of days missed from work due to various illnesses in 2020. Data was collected annually between 2001 – 2020. We focused on a six year period (2014-2020) and found a positive correlation between year and number of days missed. We then used this data to predict a four year trend. 

Data visualisation 2 – Reasons UK employees missed work in 2020

We analysed quantitative data from Health and Safety England which showed the number of days missed from work in 2020. We compared data for musculoskeletal disorders, conditions relating to the upper limbs, conditions relating to the lower limbs and back, breathing problems and stress, depression and anxiety. We discovered that stress, depression and anxiety constituted 47% of all days missed in 2020. 

Data visualisation 5 – Rates of absence relating to stress, anxiety or depression

We analysed quantitative data from Health and Safety England which showed the number of days lost from work in between 2017 – 2020 due to stress, anxiety or depression. Data was divided by gender and age group. We discovered that, on average, women were far more stressed than men. Women from the 25-34 age group were most stressed. 

Local data 

To find data on where stress-related work absences were most prevalent in the UK, we used a combination of data sources. 

[i] We analysed quantitative data from Health and Safety England which showed the number of days missed from work due to various categories of illness in 2020. Data was collected annually between 2001 and 2020. 

We organised the data available for this year to determine which regions had the highest prevalence and incidence rates of absences from work, due to stress, depression or anxiety that was triggered or made worse by work. This was broken into 12 regions (see maps and table). 

This allowed us to see which were the worst-hit regions for this category of absence. 

[ii] Once we had these results, we used search data to look deeper into each region. We assessed the number of searches for several terms including “work stress”, “stressed at work”, “work anxiety” and “work depression” – which we selected based on the highest terms searched nationally. 

We used Google’s Keyword Planner Tool to find where these terms were being searched most frequently on a monthly basis. We generated our final ranking using the most recent population data from ONS for each of these locations and worked out the percentage of searches being made per 100,000 people. This was then used to help us create the final ranking, which we depicted as a table (most-least searches) and in two maps. 

 

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