Where’s the plan to tackle poor mental health?
People with severe psychiatric conditions die up to 20 years sooner than the general population and 8.2 million people are struggling with conditions like depression and anxiety.
These are just two of the stark facts about the nation’s mental health revealed in a report published by a coalition of organisations calling on the government to act.
The pandemic and cost of living crisis are placing twin pressures on a population already struggling after austerity measures saw funding cut from mental health services.
There has been a corresponding rise in the number of people in England suffering mental ill health, the report says, with an increase of 26 per cent in referrals to secondary services over the course of the pandemic.
Half a million people are out of the labour market due to long-term sickness, according to the 2022 census.
Depression and anxiety are predicted to increase by 16 per cent in the next 15 years. The annual cost in terms of pressure on services and economic activity is £119 billion in England alone.
Widespread mental ill health is causing "preventable misery, death, demand on stretched services, lost economic productivity and cost(ing) tens of billions of pounds," the report A Mentally Healthier Nation states.
The coalition has acted to produce the report in the wake of the scrapping of a proposed ten-year health and wellbeing plan, which was absorbed into a more general health strategy.
The result, say campaigners, is worsening mental health across the UK
Poverty, poor housing, racism, a punitive welfare system, and inequality all contribute to widespread suffering, and ministers are being urged to form a new separate ten-year cross-party mental health strategy.
The report contains policy proposals drawn up by a coalition of experts from Mind, Rethink, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and children's charities.
"(We) believe that a long-term, cross-UK government plan is essential to protect and promote the whole nation’s mental health. Mental health problems affect millions of people in every aspect of their lives... we cannot become a healthier, more equitable and productive nation without better mental health for us all."
The following policy areas are recommended for action:
- A preventative approach - tackling poverty and discrimination, housing and pollution, and giving children the best start by creating a new Child Poverty Act
- Reforms to sick pay and the living wage – mental health is the most common cause of sickness absence, currently at a 13-year high.
- Tackling addiction and unhealthy living
- Addressing discrimination and disadvantage - stamping out racism, ending the hostile environment to asylum seekers, and reforming the welfare and benefits system, including ending unfair PIP and work capability assessments
- Reforms to the justice system - reducing reliance on prisons, boosting community sentences.
- Adequate funding for mental health services - tackling long waits, improving access for children and young people and modernising the Mental Health Act.
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We’re going further and faster to transform our country’s mental health services, with up to an additional £2.3 billion being invested annually until 2024 to expand services, so an extra 2 million people can get the support they need.”