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Local authorities have a remit to promote both good physical and mental health in the communities they serve. While local authorities spend millions of pounds on physical health programmes, Mind’s findings show that most areas of the country spend close to nothing on preventing mental health problems.
Local authorities are required by the Department of Health to report on their public health spending against a set list of categories, including sexual health services, obesity and stop smoking services. Currently, any spending on public mental health is reported under ‘miscellaneous’, grouped together with 14 other areas. Mind argues that this undermines the Government’s commitment to giving mental health equality with physical health.
This comes despite the fact that it is conservatively estimated that mental health problems cost health and social care services £21 billion annually, with a further £30 billion lost in economic output. Mind argues that spending on promoting good mental health and preventing mental health problems developing is just as important as physical health.
Data on public mental health spend was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mind and also showed that some areas don’t plan to spend a single penny on preventing mental health problems this year. Responses from many local authorities also painted a picture of enormous confusion about what local public health teams should do to help prevent people becoming mentally unwell.
Mind is calling on the Government to send a clear message to public health teams to prioritise mental health by asking them to no longer label public mental health spend as ‘Miscellaneous’, and instead give public mental health its own category. The charity has also produced a best practice guide outlining the kinds of initiatives local authorities could be commissioning to help people in their communities stay mentally healthy and reduce the chances of them 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.”
For more information on the ‘Mental Health Challenge’, which is an initiative led by the Centre for Mental Health and supported by Mind encouraging local authorities to champion mental health, visit www.mentalhealthchallenge.org.uk