Views on sharing mental health data for research purposes: Qualitative analysis of interviews with people with mental illness

Emily Watson, Sue Fletcher-Watson, Elizabeth Joy Kirkham*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: Improving the ways in which routinely-collected mental health data are shared could facilitate substantial advances in research and treatment. However, this process should only be undertaken in partnership with those who provide such data. Despite relatively widespread investigation of public perspectives on health data sharing more generally, there is a lack of research on the views of people with mental illness. 

Methods: Twelve people with lived experience of mental illness took part in semi-structured interviews via online video software. Participants had experience of a broad range of mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addiction. Interview questions sought to establish how participants felt about the use of routinely-collected health data for research purposes, covering different types of health data, what health data should be used for, and any concerns around its use. 

Results: Thematic analysis identified four overarching themes: benefits of sharing mental health data, concerns about sharing mental health data, safeguards, and data types. Participants were clear that health data sharing should facilitate improved scientific knowledge and better treatments for mental illness. There were concerns that data misuse could become another way in which individuals and society discriminate against people with mental illness, for example through insurance premiums or employment decisions. Despite this there was a generally positive attitude to sharing mental health data as long as appropriate safeguards were in place. 

Conclusions: There was notable strength of feeling across participants that more should be done to reduce the suffering caused by mental illness, and that this could be partly facilitated by well-managed sharing of health data. The mental health research community could build on this generally positive attitude to mental health data sharing by following rigorous best practice tailored to the specific concerns of people with mental illness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number99
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalBMC Medical Ethics
Issue number1
Early online date14 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • electronic health records
  • health data
  • interview
  • mental health
  • mental illness
  • patient perspectives
  • qualitative


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