Mental health isn't always at the top of a politician's list of priorities. But even a brief review of the facts suggests that maybe it should be, writes Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation.
On a personal level, we know that many elected members across the UK will have themselves experienced problems. Last June two MPs spoke openly in a debate at Westminster about their mental health problems – receiving a very positive response from colleagues and the public alike.
At constituency level, using Government statistics that one in six adults and one in ten children experience symptoms of a mental disorder at any one time, that's about 10,000 people in every constituency in the UK.
If you want to improve children's educational achievement and attainment, you need to build their emotional wellbeing. Research shows that half of all lifetime mental health problems emerge before the age of 14. A Prince's Trust survey found that almost half of young people with fewer than five GCSEs graded A* to C said they 'always' or 'often' felt down or depressed.
If you want to make every workplace in the UK as productive as possible, you need to have a mentally healthy workforce. Absenteeism as a result of mental health problems cost UK businesses an estimated £8.4 billion annually, and 'presenteeism' – people at work but performing poorly as a result of poor mental health – £15.1 billion.
If you want people to maintain good physical health, you need to pay attention to their mental health. Good mental health helps people to recover quicker from physical health problems. Depression is associated with 67 per cent increased mortality from cardiovascular disease and 50 per cent increased mortality from cancer, and rates of depression are double in those with diabetes, hypertension, coronary artery disease and heart failure. People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die an average 25 years earlier than the general population, largely because of physical health problems.
If you want to reduce pressure on NHS services, bear in mind that currently the NHS in England spends £12 billion annually on mental health services, compared to around £8 billion on heart disease and £6 billion on cancer. Think of the savings to be made (not just in health care, but in social care, welfare benefits, the criminal justice system and business) if we could reduce the prevalence of mental illness by creating mentally healthy environments for children and adults to grow up, work and live in, alongside better mental health promotion and early intervention services.
Every politician in the UK, whether at national or local level, needs to understand these basic facts about mental health, to ensure that policies are implemented that support good mental health in the population, and provide quick and effective interventions to individuals who develop a mental illness.