The last few days have seen two important developments in mental health. First, there was last week’s historic Commons debate, in which a number of MPs spoke about their own experiences of mental health problems. Former Defence Minister Kevan Jones threw away his notes to tell the House about his depression—you can read the end of his powerful speech in this blog on the Guardian.
The second development came today with the launch of the LSE Mental Health Policy Group’s report How Mental Illness Loses Out in the NHS, which has been causing a buzz in the media this morning. Among other headline-grabbing stats, the report reveals that nearly half of all ill health suffered by those under 65 is mental illness; that mental illness is generally more debilitating than chronic physical conditions; and that despite this, only a quarter of those with a mental illness are in treatment. The report states that ‘the under-treatment of people with crippling mental illness is the most glaring case of health inequality in our country.’
The report also highlights the economic arguments for better mental health treatment, echoing NPC’s research into economic approaches to giving last year by citing the additional savings for government generated by effective treatment of mental health.
The LSE report sets out a number of recommendations around improving NHS commissioning, training for GPs, and encouraging more people into psychiatry. But what do this week’s developments mean for the many charities and funders working to treat mental health problems?
Most of the economic cost of mental health is down to unemployment, sick leave, or poor performance at work. Earlier this year, our report on mental health and employment explored the most successful interventions to help people suffering mental health problems back into work. Individual Placement Support (IPS), is one of the most effective, providing tailored, one-to-one support, and tripling the number getting into work. But when we published our report, it had only been adopted by 1 in 6 mental health trusts in England. Private funding could play a key role in expanding IPS by funding charities to deliver it within NHS mental health teams. These funders can also provide vital funding for new interventions being trialed by charities, helping them build up evidence that they work, so they can be adopted by government commissioners.
Today’s report also highlights the importance of tackling mental health problems early—an area where charities such as the Place2Be have a very good track record. 50% of mentally ill adults were mentally ill before the age of 15, and a child with conduct disorder at 10 will cost the government roughly £100,000 more than other children over their lifetime. Investing in early intervention is very important. This is another area where private funding is key, and where charities can take risks and pilot innovative approaches which government can then build on.
Mental health problems have a devastating effect not only on those who suffer from them, but on their loved ones too. Today’s report, and last week’s debate, bring home the scale and the reality of an issue which is too often swept under the carpet and not talked about. Over three years ago, Mind and Rethink launched their Time to Change campaign to end the stigma and discrimination associated with mental health. This week’s focus on mental health from government and the media is long overdue, and very welcome. Now we need to ensure we seize on the opportunities it has created to talk about mental health and bring more funding, from government and philanthropists, to provide vital services for the millions of mental health sufferers across the UK.