In Depth

The stats that prove mental health needs to be made a major priority

Celebrities and politicians sign open letter to David Cameron demanding equality for mental health

A host of high-profile figures, including Emma Thompson, Danny Boyle and Justin Welby, have signed an open letter to the government demanding urgent action on mental health care.

The letter, which forms part of a wider campaign calling for parity of esteem between mental and physical health care, comes ahead of the government's planned Spending Review and calls for increased funding.

The cross-party campaign was launched by the Liberal Democrats' former mental health minister, Norman Lamb; former Labour government communications director and Time to Change ambassador Alistair Campbell; as well as former Conservative cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell.

It hopes to persuade the government to help reduce the suffering of those with mental illness by increasing investment in mental health services.

"We urge the government to seize the opportunity to end this historic injustice and commit the investment that will lead to an economically, and socially, stronger Britain," the letter concludes.

Mental health statistics in the UK
  • One in four people will suffer from some kind of mental health problem
  • 75 per cent of children and young people with a mental health problem receive no treatment
  • People with long-term mental health conditions live on average 20 years less than the general population
  • Women are more likely to develop a mental health problem than men
  • Suicide remains the most common cause of death in men under 35
  • 1 in 10 children have a mental health problem
  • 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination
  • The UK has one of the highest incidences of self-harm in Europe
Why the country's mental health service is in crisis

The key problem is funding. As a service, mental health care has always been chronically underfunded and an easy target for government cuts, says Sophie Corlett from the charity Mind. Mental illness accounts for roughly 23 per cent of the overall disease burden, but it only receives about five per cent of research funding.

"The number of specialist doctors and nurses has dropped and there aren't enough beds to meet demand," said Luciana Berger, who became shadow mental health minister in May. She told The Guardian: "The pressure this is putting on mental health wards is intolerable".

People are often unable to get the support they need – particularly talking therapies – and wards are running far over capacity. Patients are sometimes forced to travel hundreds of miles for treatment with "less severe" cases often left untreated. Too many mentally ill people are being "shunted around the country" in search of a bed or ending up in prison cells instead of hospital rooms, the letter says.

What more funding would mean

Campaigners say the moral and economic arguments are clear. Long-term investment in mental health services will lead to significant returns for the Exchequer, both by reducing the burden on the NHS and helping people remain in work.

But the human benefits are even greater. "I know personally the astonishing bravery that many people with mental illness show every day and the terrifying burden that they carry – and how profoundly deserving they are of any service that my tax money can afford,"  says signatory and screenwriter Richard Curtis.

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