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Councils spend ‘unacceptably low’ amount on public mental health

Local authorities in England spend “unacceptably low” amounts on public mental health, according to new research from Mind, the mental health charity.

The charity found that on average only 1.36% of the public health budget is spent on mental health.

The annual spend by local authorities on preventing physical health problems is considerable, including £76m for increasing physical activity, £108m for anti-obesity, £160m for smoking cessation and £671m on sexual health initiatives. Mind’s research indicates that the equivalent spend for preventing mental health problems is less than £40m.

When reporting on spend for different public health priorities, local authorities file public mental health under ‘Miscellaneous’.

The Local Government Association disputed the report, saying its focus was too narrow and that councils do many positive things that the report does not recognise.

The Mind report argues that spending on preventing mental health problems is just as important as physical health, especially for vulnerable groups. According to the charity mental health problems cost the country an estimated £100bn each year through lost working days, benefits, lost tax revenue and the cost of treatment. They also say it accounts for 23% of the total burden of disease in the UK.

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.”

Public Health England welcomed the report, saying that it underlines the need for more local investment in improving mental health.

"The old adage 'prevention is better than cure' is also very much true for mental health and more needs to be done to help individuals, families and communities maintain and gain good mental health,” said Gregory Henderson from PHE. "There is good evidence on what local areas should be investing in and PHE is working in partnership to develop a national approach."

Cllr Izzi Seccombe of the Local Government Association said: "While we welcome a discussion about public mental health, we think the focus of this report is too narrow.

"There are many things that councils do that impact positively on mental health but might not come with a mental health 'badge'.

"We would support the development of a national strategy that gives greater attention and focus to promoting mental health but would caution against any approach which dictates to local authorities and public health teams how to use their health promotion budgets."

Of the 152 local authorities in England, 86 replied to Mind's freedom of information requests about public mental health budgets.

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