Mental illness costs England £300bn a year, study shows |  Mental health
Mental illness costs England £300bn a year, study shows |  Mental health

Mental illness costs England £300 billion a year, almost twice the NHS budget, according to a study.

Researchers from the Center for Mental Health think tank analyzed the economic, health and care impacts of mental health, as well as the human costs of reduced quality of life and well-being.

The report, commissioned by the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, estimates that in 2022 mental illness will cost £130bn in human costs, £110bn in economic costs and £60bn in health and care costs.

Spending of £300 billion in 2022 is almost double the entire NHS budget of £153 billion in England that year and is “a comparable impact, economically, to a pandemic every year”, the report concluded.

The biggest financial impact, £175bn, falls on people living with mental health problems and their families, while the public sector contributes £25bn and business £101bn.

For the first time, the report also estimates some of the wider financial impacts of mental illness, such as presenteeism, staff turnover and lost tax revenue from economic inactivity.

The authors estimate that presenteeism – when someone is less productive at work due to impaired cognitive function and emotional stress caused by their mental ill health – costs £41.8 billion, while staff turnover due to mental illness costs £43.1 billion , and lost tax revenue cost £5.7bn.

The report concludes that even £300 billion is likely to be a significant underestimate. If other mental health impacts are included, such as the £10-16 billion cost of physical and mental health co-morbidities and the £2.1 billion cost of mental illness in prisons, the total would be even higher.

The figures highlight the scale of the mental health crisis. Referrals to NHS mental health services in England rose by 44% between 2016-17 and from 4.4m to 6.4m in 2021-22, while the number of people in contact with mental health services mental health increased from 3.6 million to 4.5 million over the same period, the National Audit Office calculated.

According to the Department of Health and Social Care, mental health accounts for just 9% of NHS spending, despite taking 23% of the “burden of disease”.

In 2002, the estimated cost of mental illness in England was £76.3 billion. Further analysis of the figures suggests that even taking inflation into account and removing all costs in the 2022 figures that were not included in the 2002 figure, there was a 40% increase in mental health spending in England over the last two decades.

Andy Bell, chief executive of the Center for Mental Health, said ministers “cannot afford to ignore the devastating impact of mental illness”, adding: “The pound sign can never fully reflect the suffering caused by mental illness.

“Rising inequality, austerity and cuts to early support have contributed to a nation with poorer overall mental health and led to more people reaching crisis point before they get support.”

The chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, Sean Duggan, echoed the call for action from ministers, saying: “The false economy of failing to invest in mental health is making the country poorer and causing untold anguish to so many and their relatives. It is vital that we invest now in effective interventions that move us closer to a mentally healthier nation for all.”

Wes Streeting, shadow health secretary, said: “The Conservatives’ failure to support people outside of quarantine, particularly young people who have felt the effects worse than most, has piled up huge problems for our society, economy and public finances.”

Brian Dow, deputy chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, called rates of mental illness “one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century”.

The release of the report came after a coalition of leading health organizations signed a joint letter calling on Victoria Atkins, the health secretary, to take “urgent steps” to protect the mental health and wellbeing of health and medical staff as specialist centers “continue to close “.

Limited funding for NHS mental health and wellbeing centers was cut a year ago, the organizations said, and as a result staff in need of support face a “postcode lottery” for care. Of the original 40 centres, 18 have been closed since March 2023, they said.

A government spokesman said: “We have increased spending on mental health by £4.7bn from 2018/19 to support even more people.

“We are also continuing to introduce mental health support teams in schools and colleges, investing £8 million in 24 early support centers and expanding talking therapy services so people can get help early on with their mental health. “

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