Millions are being wasted by our failure to treat mental health problems adequately, Dick Skellington reports
The report – from a team of economists, psychologists, doctors and NHS managers and published by the London School of Economics – said that millions of pounds are wasted by not addressing the psychological roots of mental health suffering.
The lack of therapies to alleviate damaging mental health problems such as depression is, according to the report, 'a national scandal' because nearly one half of all the ill health suffered by people of working age has mental health roots.
A third of families have a member suffering a mental illness, the authors found. Mental health problems account for nearly half of absenteeism at work, and a similar proportion of people on incapacity benefits.
The report cites the value of cognitive therapies that annually relieve anxiety for over 40 per cent of people treated, but laments the postal code lottery provision currently available. Despite government funding to train more therapists, availability remains patchy with some NHS commissioners not spending the money as intended, and services for children being cut in some areas.
"It is a real scandal that we have 6 million people with depression or crippling anxiety conditions and 700,000 children with problem behaviours, anxiety or depression," says the report. "Yet three quarters of each group get no treatment."
The report called for the Coalition Government to appoint a Cabinet Minister responsible for the mental health of the country.
The issue remains the most glaring case of health inequality in the NHS. Even allowing for the existence of cost-effective treatments, mental health receives only 13% of NHS expenditure. The report concludes that if local NHS commissioners want to improve their budgets they should be expanding their provision of psychological therapy.
Of the 6.1 million people in England with treatable anxiety or depression only 131,000 received therapy in the last quarter of 2011, around 2.1 per cent of sufferers.
Variations between primary care trusts were marked. Walsall did best with 6.4 per cent of depressed and anxious people taking therapy but in Hillingdon only 17 people out of 29,000 received treatment, only 0.1 per cent of the borough's eligible population. North London appeared to be a therapeutic desert in comparison to many other urban areas of Britain.
The Mental Heath Policy Group producing the report, led by Lord Layard, insist that NHS commissioners should recognise that treating people with mental illness saves money. Lord Layard believes that psychologists and therapists should work alongside physical medicine practitioners in acute situations in order to identify and treat effectively the real cause of apparently inexplicable symptoms.
GPs, for example, are increasingly being presented in surgeries with patients who suffer from mental health problems. The stressful nature of society, especially in austerity Britain, is generating an upward spiral of mental health problems at the front line of provision.
The care services minister, Paul Burstow, responded to the report by saying: "Mental ill-health costs £105bn per year and I have always been clear that it should be treated as seriously as physical health problems … the Coalition Government is investing £400m to make sure talking therapies are available to people of all ages who need them. This investment is already delivering remarkable results."
We will have to await further research findings to see if the minister is correct in his claim.
Dick Skellington 26 June 2012
The views expressed in this post, as in all posts on Society Matters, are the views of the author, not The Open University.