It is time to see spending on mental health as an investment not a cost

On a recent Question Time there was an excellent debate on the future funding of the NHS and social care. Norman Lamb, the former Care Minister and Lib Dem MP made a passionate plea for greater investment in the NHS and in particular on mental health.

Tory MP, Jacob Rees Mogg, unsurprisingly, countered that the UK cannot pay more tax. Even the usually more Conservative Julia Hartley Brewer nodded in agreement when Lamb outlined how little we spend on health as a proportion of GDP, which by the way is less than other European countries including Portugal.

While Lamb focused on the human cost of a lack of investment in mental health including on his own family, Rees Mogg’s attitude was totally oblivious to the impact of not spending more. It appeared as if Rees Mogg was finishing an A Level Economics test, not appearing on a national TV programme where human beings with real problems were watching as he regurgitated historical tax take percentages.

From the family who loses the main bread winner to suicide and then cannot claim on life insurance, to the child who has waited three years for a diagnosis for autism, there is a massive human cost for failing to invest in mental health. Luckily for Rees Mogg he does not have to travel 300 miles each way to see his children every weekend in hospital as some parents have to.

I have been honest before about my own experience of mental health issues. Following a breakdown in 2014, I spent £4,000 on private treatment as there were no options in urgent care on the NHS for me other than sectioning. I have recovered and gone on to pay back this investment many times over in taxes to Her Majesty’s Treasury. Had I ended up out of work for an extended period I would have cost the Exchequer not just in the lost taxes but also through benefit payments. My case is just one of many but shows how investing in mental health can have big benefits for society.

It is estimated that mental health causes 70 million sick days a year in the UK, which is a staggering statistic. Other research  has quoted the cost of replacing people on sick leave with mental health problems at £2.4billion a year. It is the leading cause of absence in the workplace.

We have to be realistic that it is unlikely we can eliminate mental health issues completely. However unlike Jacob Rees Mogg, we have to start seeing spending on mental health as an investment, in people and their families and the economy.

Only last week, it was revealed that 73 areas are cutting the amount of money being allocated to mental health. An abject failure to deliver on a promise made by the government to devote a higher proportion of spending by CCGs on mental health.

If the only way to meet that promise is to pay more tax then I for one am happy to pay towards it. For not everyone has the £4,000 that turned my life around.

* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. He is a Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding the local council and MPs to account.

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6 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 3rd Oct '16 - 4:00pm

    I’m glad to hear you have recovered but all cases are different and with me seeing a specialist was a waste of money. I was rated at least 7/10 on severity but talking to someone and completing exercises wasn’t going to solve the problems I had – one being deadlines in work and pressure over bills. I only went to satisfy a friend who was worried about me anyway.

    So it is important we don’t think too narrowly on mental health and focus on the funding too much. It doesn’t apply to me, but I doubt benefit sanctions are good for mental health. If we still want sanctions then we should accept we are only interested in the state helping people in a crisis or with a severe mental health problem.

  • For three weeks recently I went through a period of anxiety which harked back to when I did experience it quite badly, though it’s all relative as I know others who have been through much worse. It reminded me of what I though coming out of the last period and that’s how one unspoken impact is that being told it’s mental several times within a short period puts you off waking up early and fighting to get an appointment not just at the time but later on too. Before I finally mustered the energy to go down and queue I had a mild panic attack in work, left and tried to get an on the day appointment. Anxiety does not always greet you in the morning (how many times did I go to bed thinking I needed to go to the Dr only to wake up feeling far more relaxed and more concerned about getting to work) and does not lend itself to you fighting to arrange an appointment early in the morning. How much I wished that one Dr in the surgery was specifically for mental health and therefore you could try and arrange an appointment when you felt up to it rather than sitting in a waiting room feeling like you’re wasting everyone’s time because it’s all in your head anyway. If that means further investment so other surgery commitments don’t fall away then I feel it’s well worth it.

  • I saw Norman on question time, Chris. It was a good presentation by our health and social care spokesman and this is a good contribution by yourself.

  • This is a very important subject. Well done and thank you for speaking out Chris.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 4th Oct '16 - 1:40am

    Chris, you and Eddie , above , are to be thanked for your honesty. I and colleagues shall root for you !

    Equality demands just this, we treat health and illness as that, whether mental or physical. Norman and all of us need to recognise we have lousy care for mental health, but do not forget we have amongst the worst for life threatening physical too.

    We must talk about it all , and not miss out any aspect.

  • Thank you for the words of support, honesty and coming across as human is to my mind a missing quality in our politicians.

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