moneyLocal authorities in England spend an average of less than 1.36% of their public health budget on mental health, new figures have revealed.

Research by mental health charity Mind has found that some local authorities will spend nothing on preventing mental health problems this year and many areas have no clear plan for tackling poor mental health. Shockingly, a number of local authorities had no idea mental health was even their responsibility. 

Local authorities have a remit to prevent physical and mental health problems in the communities they serve. Despite millions of pounds being spent every year on preventing people developing physical health problems like heart disease or cancer, Mind’s findings show that most areas of the country spend close to nothing on preventing mental health problems.

The annual spend by local authorities on preventing physical health problems is considerable. For example, local authority figures revealed spends on increasing physical activity (£76 million), anti-obesity (£108 million), smoking cessation (£160 million) and sexual health initiatives (£671 million). Mind’s research indicates that the equivalent spend for preventing mental health problems is less than £40 million. When reporting on spend for different public health priorities, local authorities file public mental health under ‘Miscellaneous’.

This is despite that fact that mental ill health costs the country an estimated £100 billion each year through lost working days, benefits, lost tax revenue and the cost of treatment, and account for 23% of the total burden of disease in the UK. 

Data on public mental health spend was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Mind, sent to every local authority in England, and also showed that some areas don’t plan to spend anything on preventing mental health problems this year. Responses from many areas also painted a picture of enormous confusion about what local public health teams should do to help prevent people becoming mentally unwell. In others, it was clear that public health teams didn’t know it was part of their responsibility in the first place.

National strategy for mental health call

Mind is calling on the next government to introduce a national strategy for prevention to ensure local authorities and public health teams use their budgets to prevent mental health problems developing and reduce the numbers of people becoming unwell.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Just like physical health, we all have mental health. Mind’s findings show, however, that while local authorities are happy to spend on preventing physical health problems, their equivalent spending on mental health is unacceptably low. We need to invest in everyone’s mental health, particularly for people who are more likely to become unwell such as younger people, pregnant women, people who are isolated, or those living with a long-term physical health problem.

“With demand for mental health services increasing, antidepressants on the up and more people accessing talking therapies, we are beginning to see the scale of the unmet need for mental health services in England. As a society we must start looking at what we can do to help prevent people from developing mental health problems in the first place.

“Local authorities need much clearer guidance and support on how best to tackle mental health problems. We want the next Government to introduce a national strategy to ensure local authorities know what to do, and use their budgets to prevent mental health problems developing and reduce the number of people becoming unwell.”