Tackling the burden of mental illness

Cuttsy+Cuttsy | 17 May 2016

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW)1, a topic close to my heart through both work and personal experiences. For society, depression alone is a huge problem – it’s the third most common disease worldwide and in Europe it’s by far the dominant cause of ill health, with nearly 7% of Europeans affected.2

But not only are mental health problems horrific for the sufferer and those close to them. The economic and social cost in England amounts to approximately £105 billion and British business loses £26 billion a year to untreated mental health problems in the workforce.3

In 2011 the cross-Government strategy, No health without mental health4 was published, and has since been at the heart of a sorely needed mental health service reform.

The ambition is to bring mental health into the mainstream, and hopefully put some of the stigma that is so profoundly coupled with it to rest. If we can help people understand that when someone is depressed it isn’t easy to just “pull their socks up and get on with life, it can’t that bad think of the children in Africa”, we can then take a big step toward lowering the financial burden and a more empathetic society. The more practical ambition with the reform is to achieve equality in the health services for people with mental and physical problems.

In the UK, as of last year the NHS Five Year Forward View5 took the baton and a new taskforce has been established to develop a strategy for mental health.6 The past decade has seen a sharply rising burden of avoidable illness and at the core of this new strategy lays prevention, through the promotion of mental wellbeing.4 With an aging population healthcare costs are on the rise, and we simply cannot afford to keep treating preventable illness, and although many treatments may seem expensive on first examination there is much evidence that the cost of treating mental illness is far lower than of not treating it.7,8

The theme for MHAW 2016 is Relationships. At the core of the health and wellbeing of both individuals and communities, they are as vital as some physical lifestyle factors, such as keeping a healthy diet, exercising and being smoke free. With this in mind MHAW 2016 makes a call to action to the public, asking us to make a resolution to improve our relationships. I am lucky enough not to have suffered with mental disease, but in the midst of a busy life I sometimes find it astoundingly difficult to still my mind. My promise for MHAW 2016 will therefore be to try and be more present in each moment, to give my loved ones the attention and focus they truly deserve. What is yours?



2. World Health Organisation. (2008). The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update. Geneva: World Health Organization.

3. Centre for Mental Health. (2010). The Economic and Social Cost of Mental Health Problems in 2009/10.

4. Department of Health. (2011).No health without mental health.

5. National Health Service. (2014). NHS Five Year Forward View.

6. National Health Service. (2015). Accessed 20/05/15

7. Wang, P. S., Simon, G. E., & Kessler, R. C. (2008). Making the business case for enhanced depression care: the National Institute of Mental Health-harvard Work Outcomes Research and Cost-effectiveness Study. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 50, 468–475.

8. Kessler, R. C., Greenberg, P. E., Mickelson, K. D., et al. (2001). The effects of chronic mental health conditions on work loss and work cut back. Journal of occupational and Environmental Medicine, 43, 218–225.