Investing in good quality mental health support produces better outcomes for people at a lower cost, according to research published today by Centre for Mental Health for the independent Mental Health Taskforce.

Priorities for mental health was commissioned by the NHS England Mental Health Taskforce to provide economic evidence to inform its deliberations. 

Following the Taskforce report’s publication last month, Priorities for mental health sets out nine areas for service improvement where there is good evidence of cost-effective interventions that are not currently available widely.The analysis provided key evidence to the mental taskforce and the investments recommended in its final report, which NHS England has supported. The priority areas cover prevention and early intervention; better mental health care for people with physical health problems; and improved support for people with severe mental illness.

The nine priorities for investment identified in the report are:

  • Identification and treatment of anxiety and depression for women during pregnancy and after childbirth
  • Treatment of conduct disorder in young children
  • Early intervention services for first episode psychosis
  • Liaison psychiatry services in acute hospitals
  • Integrated care for people with long-term physical and mental health conditions
  • Improved management of medically unexplained symptoms and related complex needs
  • Supported employment services for people with severe mental illness
  • Community-based alternatives to acute inpatient care for people in a crisis
  • Interventions to improve the physical health of people with severe mental illness, especially smoking cessation.

All of these interventions have strong evidence that they improve outcomes and at the very least generate savings that cover their costs to the NHS. Treating women with perinatal anxiety and depression, for example, reduces health service use by both mothers and children. Liaison psychiatry services in acute hospitals create savings of at least £2.50 for every pound they cost. And doubling the number of people offered effective employment support would cost £54 million but generate savings to health services of £100 million within 18 months.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Sean Duggan said: “Priorities for mental health shows that investing in early intervention, integrating mental and physical health care and improving support for people with severe mental illness represent excellent value for money. Improving mental health support and addressing unmet needs will change people’s lives and make the NHS more sustainable as it faces unprecedented financial challenges in the next five years.”

Mental Health Taskforce chair and Mind chief executive Paul Farmer CBE said: “The Taskforce has been struck by the scope for investing in earlier, better and more responsive mental health support. The Centre’s report provides persuasive evidence of the need to use scarce resources wisely to achieve the best possible outcomes for people who too often miss out on helpful, timely and effective care. Achieving equality for mental health will improve the lives of millions of people in England and I expect that the Taskforce report and the evidence we have amassed for it will bring about the changes we need to make that possible.”