THE BLOG

Making the Pursuit of Happiness as Important as GDP

08/07/2014 18:25 BST | Updated 07/09/2014 10:59 BST

The biggest cause of misery in the UK is poor mental health. Costing over £105billion one in six adults and one in 10 children suffer a mental illness at any one time in this country.

Over the past 12 months I have chaired a commission for the think tank CentreForum grappling with how we translate these facts into change.

Stigma breeds institutional bias even in the NHS, institutional bias leads to evidence being overlooked and ignorance of the evidence means mental health does not get its fair share of resources.

Despite the evidence the NHS remains doggedly stuck, separating the physical from the psychological and the social. Yet it is only by bringing them together that we can we hope to make the best use of the resources available and improve the wellbeing of the nation.

This institutional bias against mental health was brought into sharp focus recently by the decision of NHS England to raid the budgets of Mental Health Trusts to help Acute Trusts deliver the recommendations of the Francis Report, as if the same issues did not arise in mental health.

Over the past twelve months the Mental Health Commission has taken stock of where we are today and what a new ambition for mental health should look like. Our goal has been to identify the key changes that over the next five to 10 years will reduce the number of people experiencing lifelong mental illness and help those who suffer mental illness to recover.

The commission has identified five big shifts in policy and practice.

First, make wellbeing or the 'pursuit of happiness' matter as much as GDP. The tools are available to evaluate policy and measure its impact with wellbeing in mind. This needs leadership right from the top of government and sustained action to tackle stigma.

Second, a national wellbeing programme led by Public Health England to foster mutual support, self-care and recovery. Locally tailored by Health and Wellbeing Boards to make the best of the skills and talents in communities up and down the country, building up community capacity where necessary.

Third, prioritise investment in the mental health of children and young people right from conception. By ending the back passing and fragmented commissioning and by scaling up what works we can transform the life chances of millions of children. Good mental health will reduce the costs to society of low educational attainment, bad behaviour, worklessness, crime and antisocial behaviour.

Four, make our places of work mental health friendly. The cost to business in terms of sickness absence and lost productivity runs to £23.5billion. There is good practice, it should become the norm, and it would save money. Government should lead in its own employment practice and set the standard in its procurement.

Five, close the treatment gap that leaves one in 10 people needlessly suffering depression and severe anxiety. Equip primary care to identify and support the mental and behavioural health needs of its patients. Integrating mental health and social work expertise into the primary health care teams to ensure a holistic approach.

The Commission believe that NHS England should be set the clear goal of achieving parity of funding for mental health over the next decade. We are under no illusions about the difficulties of making these changes over the next five years against a backdrop of financial constraint. However, we believe that the case for spending to be rebalanced towards mental health is overwhelming. For example, poorly managed long term mental and physical health problems cost the NHS £13billion a year.

The cost of doing nothing or simply settling for gradual change runs to billions of pounds, but the real cost is measured in human misery, misery for want of determination to act on the evidence.

Paul Burstow MP, was Minister for Mental Health 2010-2012. The Centre Forum Commission on Mental Health comprises Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Paul Farmer, Angela Greatley OBE, Paul Jenkins OBE, and Dr Alison Rose-Quirie.