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Prioritising the nation's mental health: a call to our next Government

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3 minute read

According to a recent report by the Centre for Mental Health thinktank, mental illness costs England £300bn a year, equivalent to nearly double its NHS budget.

Of course, a pound sign can never fully reflect the suffering caused by mental illness, but these figures demonstrate how deep and wide-ranging the damage to the UK is. Of this £300bn financial impact, people living with mental health difficulties and their families account for £175bn, while the public sector incurs £25bn, and business £101bn, with the report concluding that these costs have an economic impact “comparable to having a pandemic every year”. 

Human costs, economic costs and health & care costs all contribute to these shocking figures, and drastic action is required from our next Government. Of course, many political candidates promise to prioritise mental health services, but what are the actual practical, realistic and effective steps that the next Government can take to improve the mental health of UK citizens, and to reduce these skyrocketing costs?  

Create and lead a stronger vision for our nation's mental health 

Whether cynical or well intentioned, announcements of increased commitment to mental health are often vague with ill-defined plans. Our next Government's first step must be to create a comprehensive, realistic, and measurable strategy on how they are going to target mental health. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) recommend that a cabinet-level Minister for Mental Health should be appointed to lead a new cross Government 10-year mental health and wellbeing plan. 

Improve access and choice 

Another BACP recommendation for the next Government is to deliver counselling across all England’s primary schools, secondary schools, further education colleges and sixth form settings. This would be a hugely positive step, as would funding the roll out of early help community hubs for 11 to 25-year-olds across the UK. Of the original 40 hubs, 18 have closed since March 2023, and this alarming trend needs to be reversed immediately. Providing increased access to early support will have hugely positive effects for individuals and society in the short, medium, and long term. 

To combat lengthy waitlists for appointments, our next Government must focus on recruiting more trained counsellors and psychotherapists into the NHS to meet workforce expansion targets and increasing demand for mental health treatment. The range of evidence-based psychological interventions available in the NHS should also be expanded. To reduce the barrier to access caused by prohibitive costs, the Government should remove VAT on counselling and psychotherapy services. 

Make it easier for employers to invest in EAP services 

The Government should do everything in its power to highlight the significant economic benefits of EAP (Employee Assistance Programmes) services to employers, and to provide tax incentives to support employer investment in high quality, professional mental health services. 

According to a report from the Employee Assistance Programme Association, 68% of employees contacting EAP services in 2022 required counselling, highlighting the crucial role that an EAPs can provide for individuals with a lack of timely access to NHS mental health services. 

In addition to supporting the wellbeing of their employees by facilitating the treatment of mental health issues, EAPs have seen organisations report increased savings by reducing staff absences, staff turnover and presenteeism. Having a programme for staff to access mental health services has resulted in significant gains in productivity for businesses, with an improvement in the mental health of employees corresponding with an increase in performance, motivation, engagement and overall organisational resilience. Businesses must be made aware that as usage levels of EAPs continue to rise, so does their bottom line, with a recent report stating that that for every £1.00 spent on an EAP in the UK, employers see an average ROI of £10.85. In short, EAP services are good for people suffering from mental illness, businesses, and the overall UK economy, and are just one example of how not investing in mental health services is a complete false economy. 

Increased investment in mental health services by our new Government will have huge societal and economic benefits for individuals, families, and businesses, throughout the UK. This has been re-iterated by the NHS Confederation’s mental health network Chief Executive, Sean Duggan, who recently proclaimed “The false economy of failing to invest in mental health is making the country poorer and causing unspoken anguish to so many people and their loved ones. It is vital that we now invest in effective interventions that bring us closer to a mentally healthier nation for all.” 

Learn about how HealthHero are supporting organisations to prioritise the mental health of their employees here. 

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