moneyPoor mental health costs the West Midlands region more than £12 billion per year – including nearly £2 billion direct cost to the NHS – according to estimates in a new study.

This figure equates to more than £3,000 for every person living in the area, the study, led by the Health Services Management Centre at the University of Birmingham in partnership with the Centre for Mental Health, said.

The West Midlands Mental Health Commission, a task force set up by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), commissioned the study to assess the current costs of mental ill health and current service provision across the region. 

As well as the financial impact of poor mental health identified in the study, other key findings included:

23.8% of adults in the region are experiencing mental health problems at any given time

There are strong links between mental health and socio-economic conditions. For example, women living in the poorest households are nearly three times as likely as men living in the most well-off households to be diagnosed with a common mental health problem, and people living in the poorest socio-economic circumstances are ten times more at risk of suicide than those in well-off households

If the high costs of poor mental health are to be substantially reduced, the mental health of children and young people needs to be a priority, both for its immediate benefits and because intervention in the early years has been shown to reduce mental health problems in adulthood

Organisations in the WMCA have been pioneers in developing innovative models of care, but there is variation between clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and local authorities in terms of the range of provision and performance on national performance indicators. This means that some people will find it harder to access the support they need.

Chair of the West Midlands Mental Health Commission, the Rt Hon Norman Lamb MP, said: “This study highlights both the moral and the powerful economic case for ending the neglect of mental ill health. The enormous cost to the region of mental ill health must be tackled. The public, private and voluntary sectors must come together to commit to change. I want this region to lead the way in driving better mental health and wellbeing within our diverse communities and making more effective use of public resources to improve people's lives.”

Dr Karen Newbigging, lead researcher from the University of Birmingham, added: “While our research has highlighted that individuals in the West Midlands have been pioneers in introducing better practice and support for people experiencing mental health problems, it also underlines the pressing need for different organisations to work together and in partnership with local people and communities, to not only design and deliver accessible and effective forms of support but to also tackle the root causes of poor mental health, the associated stigma and discrimination, and to actively promote mental wellbeing for all.”

Superintendent Sean Russell, implementation director for the West Midlands Mental Health Commission, said: “The Mental Health Commission has created a momentum for change in the West Midlands. You cannot help but notice that the health landscape is undergoing significant change at the present time with STPs, Vanguards, Merit Vanguards and Commissioning changes and it is easy for us to get lost amongst the transformation. 

“It would also be remiss of me not to mention the current fiscal gap of £3.9 billion across the public service arena which is growing as our aging population relies more and more on public services. Working with the Combined Authority, our ambition is not only to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the West Midlands but by doing so create a more economic and sustainable arena for people now and in the future.

“Notwithstanding our focus on system change; at the heart of what we do, must be our communities. We have so many third sector and community organisation that have the infrastructure to significantly improve the population as a whole we must make the most of them. Intervention and prevention create the platform for policing to be seen as an element of wider public health intervention. We need to create a collaborative approach to delivery and ensure that the West Midlands region becomes an inclusive, productive and healthy area where people want to live, work and play.”

These findings are now helping to inform the West Midlands Mental Health Commission’s Action Plan. This plan outlines a series of actions that will be taken forward by a range of organisations and partners in the region, who will work together to drive better mental health and wellbeing.

You can download the full report here