Mental illness could cost economy up to £100 billion

Dame Sally Davies

Chief Medical Officer wants mental health to be treated more like physical health

England’s Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies has declared that mental health needs to be more of a priority, with both the NHS and employers playing a greater role.

Dame Sally has suggested that funding is being cut at a time when the cost to the economy is rising, with mental illness costing the economy between £70 billion and £100 billion in lost productivity, benefit payments and absence from work. This also equates to 70 million lost working days last year, which is up 24% since 2009. Combating this, Dame Sally believes that the option for flexible working would be beneficial to keep mental health patients in employment. Maintaining regular contact during sick leave should also be used.

The NHS spend 13% of its spend on mental health, with Dame Sally pointing out that real terms spending had been cut since 2011. Highlighting the need for improved services, she revealed that three quarters of people with a mental illness did not receive treatment. She suggested targets for waiting times – as have been introduced in other areas of the health service such as A&E units and for routine surgery – could make a difference. Young people also need better access to support as half of adults with mental health problems develop them before the age of 15 and three-quarters by 18.

Supporting mental illness at work

Dame Sally said “Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time. Underinvestment in mental health services, particularly for young people, simply does not make sense economically. One in four adults suffers some form of mental ill-health all of the time. But what I’m concerned about is how do we support people with mental ill-health who fall out of work. How do we prevent them falling out of work and how do we get them back into the workforce because this is costing us a lot in upset for those people and their families as well as our economy.”

Laura May, who has a borderline personality disorder, told the BBC that having an understanding employer is the most important factor for her. “My NHS care, while it is very good, is not the reason I work well. The reason I work well is because of my employer who supports me. If I am particularly unwell, crisis care is very important for me because it will get me back to work very, very quickly. I think crisis care in England is not particularly good, so that is definitely an area that could be improved.”