Mental health charity Mind has found that local authorities in England spend an average of 1.36 per cent of their public health budget on mental health. Local authorities have a remit to prevent both physical and mental health problems in the communities they serve. Yet despite millions of pounds being spent every year on preventing people developing physical health problems like heart disease or cancer, Mind’s findings show that most areas of the country spend close to nothing on preventing mental health problems.
The total annual spend by local authorities on preventing physical health problems is considerable, including increasing physical activity (£76m), anti-obesity (£108m), smoking cessation (£160m) and sexual health initiatives (£671m)*. Mind’s research indicates that the equivalent spend for preventing mental health problems is a fraction of this, at less than £40m. When reporting on spend for different public health priorities, local authorities file public mental health under ‘Miscellaneous’.
This comes despite that fact that mental health problems cost the country an estimated £100 billion each year through lost working days, benefits, lost tax revenue and the cost of treatment, and account for 23 per cent of the total burden of disease in the UK. Mind argues that spending on preventing mental health problems developing is just as important as physical health, particularly in relation to more at risk groups such as children and young people, pregnant women, people who are isolated and people living with long term physical health problems.
Data on public mental health spend was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mind, sent to every local authority in England, and also showed that some areas don’t plan to spend a single penny on preventing mental health problems this year. Responses from many areas also painted a picture of enormous confusion about what local public health teams should do to help prevent people becoming mentally unwell. In others, it was clear that public health teams didn’t know it was part of their responsibility in the first place.
The charity is calling on the next Government to introduce a national strategy for prevention to ensure local authorities and public health teams use their budgets to prevent mental health problems developing and reduce the numbers of people becoming unwell.
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.”
*From Local Authority Revenue Expenditure & Financing 2014-15 Budget: England