Mental illness bill hits £10bn

MENTAL health problems are costing Scotland £10.7 billion a year, according to researchers.

A report commissioned by charity the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) found the drain on the nation’s economy had increased by nearly a quarter in five years.

The increase is based on inflation, higher wages and a 26% rise in the amount the Scottish health service and local authorities spend on the problem.

However, despite the recession, the report, entitled What’s It Worth Now? assumes the number of people suffering mental ill-health has not changed since 2000. The report said almost one in six working people in Scotland have poor mental health, such as depression or anxiety.

Billy Watson, chief executive of SAMH, said: “We have always been clear on the moral and legal arguments for promoting mental health and supporting employees with mental health problems. This new research shows that there is a strong economic argument as well.

“Particularly in the current economic climate, the social and economic costs of mental health problems in Scotland are so high that we cannot afford to ignore them.”

SAMH commissioned another charity, the Centre for Mental Health in London, to investigate how much the cost of mental health problems had grown in Scotland since 2004-05.

Back then the bill was calculated at £8.6bn.

Using data from 2009-10, the researchers concluded the cost had climbed to £10.7bn.

They also estimated employers lose £439 million a year through absence caused by mental health issues – 20% more than in 2004-05. The total lost rises to £2bn a year if other factors, such as staff attending work but being less productive because of hidden problems, are included.

Surveys conducted in other countries as well as the UK were used in the calculations.

Centre for Mental Health joint chief executive Professor Bob Grove said: “Mental distress happens in all workplaces. But much of the cost can be averted by early recognition and signposting to appropriate sources of help. Workplaces that take a positive attitude to preventing and managing mental ill-health have much to gain.

“Having a mental health problem does not in itself stop a person being able to work – indeed having a good job can improve health and aid recovery. Yet too many people with mental health problems are discouraged from getting jobs and denied the chance to fulfil their potential and realise their ambitions.”

BT Scotland has seen a 30% drop in the number of people off work with mental illness thanks to a mental health well-being strategy. BT Scotland has 7500 staff, and director Brendan Dick said: “We believe that their mental health and wellbeing is fundamental to the success of our business. We aim to promote good mental health and prevent ill health, recognise the early signs of mental health problems developing and support our people to recover.”

The report also says the proportion of NHS and council funding spent on mental health has declined since 2004-05. While expenditure on the problem rose by 26%, spending by the NHS on all health conditions combined rose by 39% and spending on all social care by local authorities increased by 36%.