Workers seeking treatment for mental health issues could be fast-tracked through the health system to prevent them from having to take time off from work, the chief medical officer has suggested.
Professor Dame Sally Davies said the number of working days lost due to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24% since 2009. And the number lost due to serious mental illness has doubled.
The Department of Health’s chief medical officer called on health experts to investigate whether or not it would be beneficial to speed up the treatment pathway for those who may fall out of work due to mental illness.
Dame Sally said that such a move could improve people’s chances of staying in work.
The call comes as she raised concerns that around 70 million working days were lost to mental illness last year at a cost of up to £100 billion to the economy.
In her latest annual report focusing on the mental health of people in England, Dame Sally said more needs to be done to help people with mental illness stay in work.
She also said that three-quarters of people with diagnosable mental illness have no treatment at all as she reiterated calls for those making NHS funding decisions to treat mental illness the same way that they treat physical health.
“The costs of mental illness to the economy are astounding,” Dame Sally said.
“Through this report, I urge commissioners and decision-makers to treat mental health more like physical health.
“The World Health Organisation model of mental health promotion, mental illness prevention and treatment and rehabilitation should be adopted in public mental health in England.
“Anyone with mental illness deserves good quality support at the right time. One of the stark issues highlighted in this report is that 60-70% 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.”
Dr Peter Carter, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “The treatment gap for people with mental health problems can no longer be ignored. Not only are people with mental health problems in need of better support for their mental health conditions, but there is an unacceptable and preventable level of correlation with physical ill health.
“Dame Sally has set out the important facts and the right approach for improving the mental and physical health of the nation. A concerted effort to invest in mental health services, to integrate care and to improve public understanding is now vitally needed and history will judge us if we fail to take the opportunity.”
Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, added: “The chief medical officer has coherently articulated the vulnerability of those in our communities living with long-term mental illness, and exposed the need for government and NHS England to go further and faster to address chronic under-investment in front line services.
“We welcome this bold report and its important contribution to a long overdue national debate.”