Mental Health and the Economy

By Danny Bowman, Parliament Street’s Mental Health Spokesman

Every week I see on the news a collection of stories about cuts to mental health services and the catalogue of effects it is having on individuals who are not able to get help from our National Health Service (NHS). This is a constant reminder how far we still need to come in perfecting our approach to mental health. There is an incredible array of reasons to improve mental health services and one of them must be to reduce the overwhelming cost of mental ill health to our economy.

According to research published by the Kings Fund, spending on mental health within the NHS budget only equates to 13%, though in 2015 the wider costs of mental health to the economy was £105.2 Billion. It seems glaringly obvious that the only way to reduce the cost is by investing.

Mental health equates to 28% of the total burden of disease but only a miniscule 13% of funding given to mental health services which is leading to many individuals suffering from the agony of mental illness waiting a long periods of time without any intervention.

So how does this have an impact on our economy?

If someone isn’t receiving support for their debilitating mental illness, then it will only get worse and in many cases it reaches crisis point. This impacts on the individual’s ability to work which, for one, means they aren’t paying income tax. Figures produced by the NHS Confederation in 2016 found that 46.9% of people claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) were recorded as having a ‘mental or behavioural disorder’. Even if the sufferer is in employment they may be forced to go on long term sick leave. This reduces productivity and costs public services and businesses large sums of money in sick leave pay.

It could effect a young person’s ability to remain in education. It increases the chance of an individual suffering from mental illness ending up in prison and, according to research done by Young Minds, 95% of young offenders have a mental health disorder.

With the huge strain on the NHS mental health services why has the government taken away the nursing bursary? Individuals studying mental health nursing are expected to do 50% of their studies on unpaid placements which saves the tax payer huge amounts of money but due to the nursing bursary being cut. This means they now have to pay on top of all of that £9000 a year. The idea of studying mental health nursing is becoming undesirable which leads to less people working in mental health.

So what’s the answer? If we want to help people and save money at the same time we must invest to save. This means injecting money into mental health services, and training a future generation of mental health workers by bringing back the nursing bursary for individuals training to work in mental health. This would lead to lower waiting times which would inevitably see individuals suffering from mental illness recover sooner. The cost of mental health to the economy would be reduced because more people would be well enough to get back into education, become employed or remain in employment reducing the welfare bill and it could potentially reduce the strain that has been building on other services such as the police, accident and emergency departments, GP surgeries, local councils, educational institutions and prison services.

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