While Homer Simpson may have said “people can come up with statistics to prove anything”, there are some occasions when bald numbers do tell their own story. Mental health funding is one of those.
For instance, according to a review by the Medical Research Council, mental health is estimated to cost £77 billion each year in England alone. It accounts for 15% of all disability due to disease and affects 16.7 million people in the UK at any one time. Yet only about 5% – £74 million – of medical research budgets are dedicated to it per year.
Professor Til Wykes from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London hit the nail on the head in a recent BBC piece, saying that mental health research is “incredibly underfunded”
This seems especially so, given that mental health problems affect more people at any one time than cancer or heart disease – both of which receive more funding.
Given the statistics, it is hard to argue with Prof Wykes. Whether this relative lack of funding is down to stigma or the fact that mental health is not a “sexy” illness is debatable, but at least there are moves to challenge the situation.
For example, in its review, the MRC has outlined the priorities for the research community for the next 5-10 years:
- Focus on the prevention of mental disorders based on better understanding of causes, risk levels and new approaches to early preventive measures
- Accelerate research and development to provide new, more effective treatments for mental illness, and implement them more rapidly
- Expand the capacity for research in this area in the UK.
The MRC will work with funding agencies such as the Economic and Social Research Council, the National Institute of Health Research and the Health Departments of the devolved administrations on approaches to take forward these recommendations, but whether more funding will be forthcoming is debatable.
The logic for more funding is hard to argue against – basically, more research would lead to better and more effective ways of preventing and treating mental illness, thus reducing the burden to the country and saving money – but the financial state of the country may dictate what happens.
With the Department of Health looking for savings, research budgets look set to be slashed for many areas of healthcare – although not dementia – so any large increases may be out of the question, although an increase in real terms may be feasible. Whether that is enough is another matter – it may be another case of innovative work having to be done with fewer resources, which could hold back the pace of development – to everyone’s detriment.