Early intervention is key to reducing the costly impact of poor mental health in Australia, says a visiting UK economist.
Mental illness has been put on the economic agenda, as its cost to the nation soars to more than $60 billion a year.
The National Mental Health Commission estimates the cost of mental ill-health to Australia is around four per cent of GDP or about $4000 for every tax payer.
Rather than waiting for a person’s poor mental health to reach crisis point, the focus needs to be on prevention and early intervention, says Professor Martin Knapp from the London School of Economics.
Prof Knapp, who will brief senior Australian government policy makers on the economic case for managing mental health, says better mental health can increase national ‘mental wealth’.
“We’d see an increase in workforce participation, productivity and economic competitiveness as well as an increase in GDP,” he said.
There are huge costs to society and individuals if early intervention isn’t provided, says Prof Knapp.
In fact, a five-decade long UK cohort study of 13,000 people born in one week in 1958 found that those who were bullied during primary school were much more likely to have mental health issues even at age 50 compared to those who weren’t bullied.
Prof Knapp says the harmful effects extended well beyond psychological distress to lower levels of education, physical and cognitive health problems, and poor social functioning.
They were much more likely to use mental health services, have employment difficulties and lower income.
The challenge now is to get in early enough to support people to head off those problems before their lives are damaged permanently, says Prof Knapp.
“Having an enduring mental health issue can be a very miserable experience for people and by investing in measures to support them you not only help them but you contribute to society more generally.
“Those people then become less socially excluded, more likely to participate in education, in employment, in community activities and so on. So we are generally contributing to that wellbeing, that mental wealth, if you like, of Australian society,” he said.
Chair of the National Mental Health Commission, Professor Allan Fels, has called for action across sectors to improve the mental health system through the appropriate allocation of resources.
“These interventions can involve improving health treatments as well as areas such as disability, housing and employment services,” said Prof Fels.
This article first appared on ‘9 News’ on 13 December 2016.