A government report into mental health care has come under criticism after it called for preferential treatment for people in work.
The paper (see page 11), by the chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies, estimated that around 70 million days were lost to mental illness last year costing the economy between £70 and £100 billion.
As a result the report calls for an investigation into fast-tracking people in work with mental health concerns to get the necessary care to minimise time taken off.
However, while welcoming the majority of the findings, the chief executive of leading mental health charity MIND Paul Farmer, said improved and faster access to care should be available to all.
He said: “We feel it is essential that everyone with a mental health problem gets timely access to the treatment they need, whether in or out of work.”
Former TV presenter and model Gail Porter, who has suffered from mental ill health herself was shocked by the proposal. She said: “I’ve suffered from bi-polar disorder myself. Everyone should be treated equally. It’s outrageous.”
But Farmer and Davies were united in calling for mental health care to be treated with the same importance as physical care including creating maximum waiting times.
The annual report into the mental health of the nation also called for more investment in children and young people’s mental health to prevent illness in later life, unemployment and criminality.
Prof Davies found that 50% of adult mental illness starts before the age of 15 and 75% before the age of 18. She also found that 75% of people with a diagnosable mental illness received no treatment at all.
Prof Davies said: “The costs of mental illness to the economy are astounding. I urge commissioners and decision-makers to treat mental health more like physical health. Sixty to seventy per cent of people with common mental disorders such as depression and anxiety are in work, so it is crucial that we take action to help those people stay in employment to benefit their own health as well as the economy.”
MIND’s Paul Farmer described the report as a ‘wake-up call’ for politicians to make mental health a priority in the run-up to next year’s election.
He said: “Whoever forms our next government will have a big job to do in making sure that mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health.”
* Additional reporting by Big Issue Journalist trainee Mark McDonagh