Mental health problems hit the UK economy for at least £117.9 billion every year.
The startling figure was revealed in a report published by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF) and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
The report, entitled ‘The Economic Case for Investing in the Prevention of Mental Health Conditions in the UK’, highlights lost productivity amongst those with poor mental health and the work of unpaid carers as contributing to almost 72 percent of the costs. It also provides a sense of the scale of the problem, by setting these costs against the £150.4 billion NHS bill in England in 2019/20.
At the same time, the research describes the broader context of mental health issues in the UK, by drawing attention to the 10.3 million instances of mental ill health across the country in the same period.
The chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, Mark Rowland, said: ‘Our report reveals the monumental cost to the economy of poor mental health. It also demonstrates the opportunity to make a radical change in our approach to mental health by prioritising prevention, resulting in improved wellbeing for all and reducing costs to our economy.’
A spokesperson for The Workers Union said: ‘The cost of poor mental health to people, communities, the economy and the fabric of our society can no longer be treated as something that will go away of its own accord. This is not something we can continue to sweep under the carpet or pay lip service to. Companies, corporations and politicians must invest in prevention as the best means of helping people to live happy, healthy and successful lives – both in, and out, of work.’
The Workers Union Says
Compared with the generations that came before us, we live in a world of unparalleled luxury. Food supplies, healthcare, warm housing, and the availability of leisure time (and the activities to fill it) mean that by any objective comparison with our ancestors we are spoilt.
And yet our societies are shot through with angst and depression – much of it related to work. It is now up to companies to recognise this and take a serious look at mental health provision for their staff. This cannot just be a question of salaries, either: money is important, not least when the cost of living is squeezing so hard, but it cannot be the only focus. Benefits packages, for example, should include access to improved counselling services, as well as a number of ‘mental health days’ that staff can option in addition to their leave entitlement. These days should not be offered on a purchase basis, but be made available to staff if they need to focus on their wellbeing.
Of course, improved pay and benefits will only make a difference if workloads are sensibly apportioned and people are treated with respect. The best way of creating a context in which these values flourish is to acknowledge that poor mental health costs all of us. It drains the energy from societal interactions, hides behind a smile and damages our ability to compete in the modern world. As such we must act in concert to tackle it at every level of our society.