Research from the charity Mind found that local authority mental health spending is “unacceptable low”, with some areas of the country spending ‘close to nothing’ on preventing mental health problems.
A freedom of information request sent to every local authority in England found that the total annual spend on preventing physical health problems is considerable, including increasing physical activity (£76m), anti-obesity (£108m), smoking cessation (£160m) and sexual health initiatives (£671m). In comparison, local authority spending on preventing mental health problems is equivalent to just £40m.
Local authorities in England spend only a fraction (1.36%) of their total health budget in tackling mental health problems, say Mind. This is despite the fact that mental health problems cost the economy an estimated £100 billion a year. This is due to lost working days, benefits, lost tax revenue and treatment costs. Mind argues that spending on preventing mental health problems developing is just as important as physical health.
Worryingly, Mind’s research also found that some local authorities don’t plan to spend a penny on preventing mental health problems this year. Some local health teams had no clear idea on what they could do to tackle mental health problems at a local level. Others didn’t realise that is was their responsibility.
Mind is calling on the government to introduce a national strategy to ensure that local authorities, and public health teams, use their budgets to prevent mental health problems developing. Paul Farmer, chief executive of mind said:
“Just like physical health, we all have mental health. Mind’s findings show, however, that while local authorities are happy to spend on preventing physical health problems, their equivalent spending on mental health is unacceptably low. We need to invest in everyone’s mental health, particularly for people who are more likely to become unwell such as younger people, pregnant women, people who are isolated, or those living with a long term physical health problem.
“With demand for mental health services increasing, antidepressants on the up and more people accessing talking therapies, we are beginning to see the scale of the unmet need for mental health services in England. As a society we must start looking at what we can do to help prevent people from developing mental health problems in the first place.
“Local authorities need much clearer guidance and support on how best to tackle mental health problems. We want the next Government to introduce a national strategy to ensure local authorities know what to do, and use their budgets to prevent mental health problems developing and reduce the number of people becoming unwell.”
Gregory Henderson of Public Health England said: “PHE welcomes this important report as it clearly underlines the need for more local investment in improving the public’s mental health.
“The old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is also very much true for mental health and more needs to be done to help individuals, families and communities maintain and gain good mental health.
“There is good evidence on what local areas should be investing in and PHE is working in partnership to develop a national approach.”
Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Public Health, said:
“Mental health should be treated no differently to physical health but these findings are further evidence that mental health is clearly at a disadvantage when it comes to allocating funds.
“The Government is failing to honour its promise of treating mental health with the same importance and attention as physical health. David Cameron must urgently tackle the crisis in mental health services. Ministers must do more to ensure that services needed by people with mental illness are in place and patients get the help and support that they need.”
Councillor Izzi Seccombe of the Local Government Association said Mind’s report was “too narrow”. Adding: “There are many things that councils do that impact positively on mental health but might not come with a mental health ‘badge’.
“We would support the development of a national strategy that gives greater attention and focus to promoting mental health but would caution against any approach which dictates to local authorities and public health teams how to use their health promotion budgets.”
In 2015 Mind is planning to train pub landlords, hairdressers, restaurant staff and beauty therapists to spot the signs and symptoms of mental health problems among their customers and offer advice. The scheme will take place in Tameside, Oldham and Glossop and mirrors a similar project that took place in Norfolk and helped to train 200 people.