Mental Health Problems Cost €3bn

MENTAL HEALTH problems cost the economy more than €3 billion in 2006, or 2 per cent of Gross National Product (GNP), a new report has found. Meanwhile, the percentage of health funding spent on mental health services has halved since the 1980s.

The main costs to the economy were not in the health system, as might be expected. They were found to be in the labour market as a result of lost employment, absenteeism, lost productivity and premature retirement. Mental health problems also imposed costs on the prison service and the social services dealing with homelessness. And they led to lost output and productivity.

The human and social costs associated with mental health problems such as pain, reduction in quality of life and suicide were not included in these estimates.

The Economics of Mental Health Care in Ireland report was prepared by Eamon O’Shea and Brendan Kennelly of the Irish Centre for Social Gerontology and department of economics, NUI Galway and commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Ireland.

The share of public health expenditure spent on mental health services fell from just under 14 per cent in 1984 to 7.76 per cent last year. “Mental healthcare has lost out in the ongoing scramble for scarce healthcare resources,” the authors said.

They pointed out that the Government’s Vision for Change policy recommended that the proportion of the health budget allocated to mental health should rise to 8 per cent. “We should set a target of 10 per cent for mental health expenditure as a proportion of overall health expenditure to be realised over a five-year period,” the authors said.

The report said mental health spending appeared to be historically based rather than following needs. “The result is wide variability in the provision of mental health funding across current catchment areas, including no relationship between size of catchment area and the budget allocated.”

The authors warned that when mental hospitals closed before being replaced with well-developed rehabilitation services, there was “a high risk” that people moved to community residences would not receive the help they needed.

“There is also the risk that people newly presenting with severe mental health problems will be placed in such residences, rather than being given the kind of treatment and support that allows them to function more independently in their own environment.”

The report also found that the public would be willing to see extra taxation being spent on new community-based mental health services. However, people tended to favour spending on cancer and ageing programmes over mental healthcare.

Dr Edmond O’Dea, chairman of the Mental Health Commission, said the report showed there was “a powerful economic case” for investment in mental health services. He said we had not yet made the connection between increased public spending on mental healthcare and gains for society.