Happiness is the government’s business say mental health experts

8 July 2014

Led by Paul Burstow MP, the CentreForum Mental Health Commission concludes a landmark study on the state of mental health in England.

The Commission’s findings and recommendations draw on the expertise of chief executives of mental health charities Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, and Turning Point; the outgoing president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists; and NHS and independent sector service providers.

The ‘pursuit of happiness’ must become an explicit and measurable goal of government if the £105 billion annual cost of mental illness in England is to be reduced, according to a report published on Tuesday by a group of leading mental health experts. (1)

Chaired by former minister for mental health, Paul Burstow MP, the CentreForum Mental Health Commission concludes its 12 month study on the state of wellbeing in England by identifying five key priorities between now and 2020. (2) It calls on policymakers to:

  • Establish the mental wellbeing of the nation or the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as a clear and measurable goal of government.
  • Roll out a National Wellbeing Programme to promote mutual support, self-care and recovery, and reduce the crippling stigma that too often goes hand in hand with mental ill health.
  • Prioritise investment in the mental health of children and young people right from conception. (3)
  • Make places of work mental health friendly with government leading the way as an employer. (4)
  • Better equip primary care to identify and treat mental health problems, closing the treatment gap that leaves one in four of the adult population needlessly suffering from depression and anxiety and 1-2% experiencing a severe mental illness such as schizophrenia. (5)

The Commission also calls for parity of funding for mental health which currently receives 13% of NHS spend in England but accounts for 23% of demand. It is estimated that £13 billion is overspent every year on dealing with the physical health consequences of this unmet need. (6)

The Commission’s final report titled ‘The pursuit of happiness’ has been welcomed by Department of Health minister Norman Lamb MP among other high profile figures. It can be accessed here.

Norman Lamb MP, Minister of State for Care and Support, said: “I want to build a fairer society where mental health care is valued as much as physical health care. That’s why we’ve invested over £450 million in improving access to psychological therapies and we’ve launched a national agreement to improve crisis care.”

“This report highlights crucial principles that we need to adopt at a local and national level to improve mental health care and we will consider all its recommendations carefully. The Commission is doing valuable work to increase the momentum on achieving better mental health for everyone.”

Paul Burstow MP, Chair of the CentreForum Mental Health Commission, said: “Failure to promote good mental health not only ruins lives, it costs the economy £105 billion every year. There is no single simple change that will deliver better mental health. But making governments measure and value wellbeing as much as GDP would be an important step in the right direction. We then need bold action across the board so that we can see national wellbeing improving. We know what works in the workplace, in schools, in health services. Starving mental health services of investment is a massive false economy, building up more costs to the NHS, to social care, to welfare, to businesses and the economy.”

“The first signs of life long mental illness can be traced back to childhood for half of those with mental health problems. This is simply not good enough. We would not tolerate a hospital turning away a child with a broken leg or cancer, but that is the experience of children with mental health problems every day. We need to promote good mental health from the earliest opportunity, and make sure that schools, workplaces and the communities that we all live in are supporting us to be mentally well. 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.”

Prof Sir Simon Wessely, President, Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “As someone with a background in public mental health I warmly welcome this report’s focus, and in particular its advocacy for closing the treatment gap, prioritising the good mental health of children and adolescents and securing parity of funding for mental health services. This report recognises that the status quo of undertreatment and underfunding is unsustainable both in terms of the economic costs and more importantly the human misery that it perpetuates, and makes powerful recommendations for cross governmental action to reduce the health inequalities suffered by people with mental illness. I hope that the Government, CCGs and Health and Wellbeing Boards give it careful consideration, as befitting the thorough work that clearly went into it.”

Prof Sue Bailey, Chair of Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition and outgoing President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “I am delighted that this report points out the current stark reality of lack of resourcing for the well being, resilience and mental health of all children and young people from conception to adulthood. But more importantly the report offers practical steps that move from the rhetoric to the reality of how to best invest in the well being and mental health of children and young people. How to deliver effective early identification, assessment, timely support and treatment because our children simply deserve better.”

Lord Victor Adebowale, Chief Executive, Turning Point, said: “This report makes clear that mental health and wellbeing will not be sidelined. No one involved in this report wants words without action – what is key is that individuals and organisations in the health and social care sector work together to make the report’s recommendations a reality.”

Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, Chair, Independent Mental Health Services Alliance (IMHSA), said: “The independent sector mental health providers support the essential recommendations clearly set out in this report. To achieve equality between physical and mental health we must set tangible goals and drive momentum to create real change in the system. Closing the funding gap for mental health and investing in our children and young people has real potential to change lives. We now look forward to working with partners across the sector to deliver the report’s recommendations and make parity of esteem a reality.”

Sean Duggan, Chief Executive, Centre for Mental Health, said: “This vital report sets out a clear agenda for the next five years to give mental health and wellbeing the attention they deserve from government, from health services, from schools and from business. The report offers practical recommendations to enhance wellbeing and to tackle high levels of unmet need among children and adults living with mental ill health. By investing in families, schools, workplaces and health services we can prevent problems emerging, respond quickly when people seek help and support recovery.”


  1. The Centre for Mental Health estimated in 2010 that the cost of mental health in England exceeds £105 billion per annum. This figure includes the costs of health and social care for people with mental health problems, lost output in the economy (e.g. from sickness absence and unemployment) and the human costs of reduced quality of life.
  2. The Commission members are Rt Hon Paul Burstow MP, Chair and former Liberal Democrat Minister of State for Care and Support 2010-12; Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, Chief Executive, Turning Point; Professor Dame Sue Bailey, Chair, Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition; Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind; Angela Greatley OBE, Chair, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; Paul Jenkins OBE, Chief Executive, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust; Dr Alison Rose-Quirie, Chair, Independent Mental Health Services Alliance.
  3. The Commission urges government to prioritise investment in the mental health of children and teenagers. It says this will not just transform people’s life chances but reduce the costs to society of low educational attainment, negative behaviour, worklessness, crime, and antisocial behaviour. Proposals set out in the report include a requirement on teachers to educate children on how to look after their mental health, parenting programmes for families of children with behavioural problems, and regular development assessments at key stages during a person’s childhood.
  4. Mental health related sickness absence and lost productivity costs business up to £23.5 billion annually. The Commission says that government must take the lead in tackling this problem by ensuring all public sector enterprises become mental health friendly employers. It also urges organisations with more than 500 employees to work towards that status.
  5. The treatment gap leaves mental health patients suffering lower standards of care than those with physical illness. In response, the Commission argues that primary care mental health must be transformed so that services are more joined up and closer to individuals.
  6. The Commission recommends a clear commitment by the Secretary of State for Health in the mandate to NHS England to achieve parity of funding for mental health over a 10 year period. To achieve this, the Commission believes that through the tariff deflator, or other means, the proportion of NHS spending on mental health should grow by 1% a year over the next 10 years, equivalent in current terms to an increase in spending on mental health of the order of £1 billion per annum.

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