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Mental illness costs £70bn per year, says OECD report

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Mental illness costs the UK economy an estimated £70 billion per annum in lost productivity, social benefits and healthcare, an OECD report has warned.

The report, ‘Mental Health and Work United Kingdom’, explores mental illness and the myths surrounding mental health and work.

It found mental illness costs 4.5% of GDP each year, and is the leading reason the UK has the highest concentration of disability benefits claimants in the developed world.

“The cost of mental ill health in the UK is higher than in any of the countries we have [studied] countries like Sweden and the Netherlands,” said OECD deputy director Mark Pearson at the report’s launch in London yesterday.

“People with mental disorders are less likely to be in work. In the United Kingdom, their employment rates are 17 percentage points lower than people without mental disorders.

“They are almost twice as likely to be poor, and people with mental health problems in the UK are at a greater risk of falling into poverty than all the other OECD countries we’ve looked at, including the United States.”

Each year up to 370,000 Britons (1% of the working age population) move onto new disability benefits, and mental illness accounts for 40% of new claimants.

“Ignoring these facts would be a major error, an economic error as well as social,” Peterson warned.

Employment promotes mental wellbeing

A key message from the report is that employment has a positive effect on mental health and the treatment of mental illness. The report praised the UK for having one of the more innovative attitudes towards mental health treatment and employment.

However a problem identified by the report and other experts is that while there has been good recent progress on policy, the system for administering mental health care and employment is not well joined up, hampering treatment outcomes.

The OECD report also urged the UK to improve the early identification and action of people at an early phase of mental illness.

“Helping people to keep their jobs is far easier than helping people find new jobs,” Peterson added.

At present, return to work support in the UK only kicks in after employees have been off for nine to 12 months.

To tackle this, the Government has announced it will launch a Health and Work Service, which offers voluntary medical assessments and treatment plans to employees after four weeks to help get them back to work more quickly.

*HR magazine will have an in-depth report on the Health and Work Service and reactions to the announcement later this week.