Local authorities in England spend an average of just 1% of their health budget on mental illness, according to a leading mental health charity.
Figures obtained by the charity Mind, through the Freedom of Information Act, reveal that Councils in England are failing to promote both good physical and mental health in the communities they serve.
Mind says the figures show that “most areas of the country spend close to nothing on preventing mental health problems”.
Councils are required to report on their public health spending to the Government using a set list of categories, including sexual health services, obesity and stop smoking services.
However, spending on mental health services is reported as “miscellaneous”, which Mind says “undermines the Government’s commitment to giving mental health equality with physical health”.
The charity argues that spending on preventing mental health problems from developing is just as important as for physical health issues.
It is estimated that mental health problems cost health and social care services around £21 billion each year, with a further £30 billion lost in ‘economic output’ – such as lost working hours.
However, some local authorities admitted they do not intend to spend a single penny on preventing mental health problems this year.
There was also “enormous confusion about what local public health teams should do to help prevent people becoming mentally unwell”, said Mind.
Mind is calling on the Government to prioritise mental health, as well demanding that Councils no longer label public mental health spend as ‘Miscellaneous’.
The charity has also published a best practice guide for local authorities and mental health teams, outlining how they can help communities stay mentally healthy and reduce the chances of people becoming unwell.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Our research shows that the current spend on public mental health initiatives is negligible.
“The fact that local authorities’ public health teams are allowed to file mental health under ‘Miscellaneous’ when reporting on it perhaps explains why. It sends a message that mental health is not seen as important and not a priority for investment.
“It is not acceptable that such a small amount of the public health purse goes on preventing mental health problems.
“One in four people will experience a mental health problem every year, yet so much of this could be prevented by targeted programmes aimed at groups we know to be at risk, such as pregnant women, people who are isolated, or those living with a long-term physical health problem.”
“Having a mental health problem can impact on all aspects of our lives, from our relationships and work to our physical health. The personal costs are immeasurable, and the wider economic cost is huge.
“Prevention is always better than cure and ignoring the problem simply doesn’t make sense. We need local authorities to use their budgets to help people in their communities stay mentally healthy and reduce the chances of them becoming unwell.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: “This is not the full picture for preventative mental health care in this country.
“NHS funding for mental health increased to £11.7bn in 2014-15 – this money is helping more people than ever receive talking therapies, which have helped hundreds of thousands reach recovery and manage their conditions.
“That money is being spent alongside local authorities helping to keep their communities well.”