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Make mental health a bigger priority, says CMO

Around 70 million working days were lost to mental illness last year, costing the economy between £70bn and £100bn, according to the Department of Health’s Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO’s) Annual Report. 

The report, released today, says that employment is good for mental health, and calls for a cost-benefit analysis to investigate possible fast-track mental health care for working people at risk of falling out of work. 

The report also finds that 75% of people with a diagnosable mental illness receive no treatment at all. It recommends piloting integrated psychiatry services with primary care and the development of psychiatric expertise in primary care; saying this could prevent underlying issues escalating and developing into enduring mental illness. 

The CMO, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “The costs of mental illness to the economy are astounding. Through this report, I urge commissioners and decision-makers to treat mental health more like physical health. 

“The WHO model of mental health promotion, mental illness prevention and treatment and rehabilitation should be adopted in public mental health in England. 

“Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time. One of the stark issues highlighted in this report is that 60-70% of people with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are in work, so it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy.” 

The report goes on to make the case for investment in children’s and young people’s mental health to prevent later life mental illness, unemployment and criminal behaviour. It states that 50% of adult mental illness starts before age 15, and 75% before age 18 and early treatment can prevent costly later life problems. 

Care and support minister Norman Lamb said the CMO's recommendations would be “considered carefully”, adding attempts were being made to make mental health more of a priority, including the possibility of introducing targets. 

“I want to build a fairer society where mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health,” he said. 

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, welcomed the CMO’s report: “The CMO has coherently articulated the vulnerability of those in our communities living with long term mental illness, and exposed the need for government and NHS England to go further and faster to address chronic under investment in frontline services. We welcome this bold report and its important contribution to a long overdue national debate.” 

Jenny Edwards, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, added that whilst she recognises the benefit of good quality work to Mental Health her organisation is concerned about the suggestion to focus the fast tracking of care on people of working age who are at risk of falling out of work.  

“A health service that is free at the point of delivery should ‘fast track’ all and not discriminate in favour of those who are economically active,” she said. “We consider that there must be an investment in establishing a suite of evidence-based solutions to mental ill health and support mental well-being, particularly targeted where there are the greatest inequalities.”   

Dr Max Davie, a community paediatrician and spokesperson for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, also welcomed the report, pointing out 850,000 children and young people in the UK have a mental health problem:

“Lack of early intervention has fed the current crisis we are witnessing in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services,” he said. “They are overstretched and underfunded.  But well as more investment in services, it’s crucial that there is reliable data on the prevalence of mental health problems among children and young people to help with the planning on healthcare services.  The proposed commissioning of an updated B-CAMHS is a step in the right direction, but this needs to be urgently updated and repeated regularly.”

(Image: c. NHS Confederation) 

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