Mental health problems cost the Scottish economy at least GBP 8.8 billion a year - new research

2nd Mar 2022
  • Mental Health Foundation calls for Scottish Government commitment to cost-effective prevention of poor mental health

  • Cost to UK economy is at least £117.9 billion, around 5% of GDP

Mental health problems cost the Scottish economy at least £8.8 billion annually according to a new report published today by the Mental Health Foundation and London School of Economics and Political Science with support from the University of Strathclyde.

Almost three-quarters of the cost (72%) is due to the lost productivity of people living with mental health conditions and costs incurred by unpaid informal carers who take on a great deal of responsibility in providing mental health support in our communities.

To put the economic cost of mental ill-health in Scotland into context, the NHS Scotland operating budget for 2020/21 was around £15.3 billion.

The UK cost is at least £117.9 billion – equivalent to around 5 per cent of the GDP. Across the UK there were 10.3 million recorded instances of mental ill-health over a one-year period, and the third most common cause of disability was depression.

The report, ‘The economic case for investing in the prevention of mental health conditions in the UK’, makes the case for a prevention-based approach to mental health which would both improve mental wellbeing while reducing the economic costs of poor mental health.

Lee Knifton, Director of Mental Health Foundation in Scotland, said: “Our report reveals the opportunity we have to revolutionise our approach to mental health in Scotland. It’s time to increase investment in population-level prevention of mental health problems. We can’t only treat our way out of the mental health crisis, which is worsening due to the pandemic, and we cannot afford the spiralling costs to both people’s wellbeing and our economy. We urge the Scottish Government to pay attention to what the evidence is telling us and commit to prioritising prevention in mental health. A prevention-first approach will not only help break down the barriers to good mental health but empower people to thrive at every stage of their lives and boost our economy in the long run.”

Research gathered from the UK and internationally shows the potential public health and economic benefit of programmes that target and prevent mental health problems and empower more people to live well, for example, by addressing issues such as perinatal depression, bullying, and social isolation in older people.

The economic case for investing in the prevention of mental health conditions in the UK

Other well-evidenced initiatives include promoting positive parenting, rapid access to psychological and psychosocial supports for people with identified needs and building supportive and inclusive workplaces.

A growing number of studies report on the significant return on investment from parenting programmes. Methods and costs vary, but those assessed in this way cover a long-time frame and report positive returns of up to £15.80 in long-term savings for every £1 spent on delivering the programme.

Similarly, a review of workplace interventions found savings of £5 for every £1 invested in supporting mental health.

Lead author of the report, David McDaid, Associate Professional Research Fellow in Health Policy and Health Economics at London School of Economics, said: “Our estimate of the economic impacts of mental health conditions, much of which is felt well beyond the health and social care sector, is a conservative estimate. What is clear is that there is a sound economic case for investing in effective preventive measures, particularly at a time when population mental health may be especially vulnerable because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This requires further sustained and coordinated actions not only within the health and social care sector, but across the whole of government.”

The £8.8 billion costs to the Scottish economy is likely to be a significant underestimate of the true costs – based on the lack of data available around some key areas. For example, health service costs are based on the number of people receiving treatment and do not consider the many people who would benefit from treatment but either does not receive it because of pressure on services or do not seek help. Additionally, no costs are included for reduced performance at work due to mental health problems, costs to criminal justice and housing systems linked to poor mental health, costs associated with addiction issues, or the costs associated with self-harm and suicide.

Read the full report here



For further information and interview requests, please email  [email protected] .

Notes to editors

The report was commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation in order to:

  1. provide an updated estimate on the costs of mental health problems to the UK
  2. make the case for investing in evidence-based interventions to prevent mental health problems from developing

The lead authors of the report are David McDaid and A-La Park, Care, Policy and Evaluation Centre, Department of Health Policy London School of Economics and Political Science.

Co-authors are:

  • Gavin Davidson, Queens University Belfast
  • Ann John, Swansea University
  • Lee Knifton, Mental Health Foundation
  • Shari McDaid, Mental Health Foundation
  • Alec Morton, University of Strathclyde
  • Lucy Thorpe, Mental Health Foundation
  • Naomi Wilson, Mental Health Foundation

The prevalence-based costing model used in the study draws on data from the 2019 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) database. We have included 11 of the 12 categories of mental health problems used in the GBD.

The study does not include intellectual disabilities, neurological conditions such as dementia, or alcohol and substance use disorders. The actions needed to address these conditions are different from the preventative actions focused on in this report.

Costs included: health and social care costs; additional educational support costs; productivity costs; informal care costs; quality of life-related costs.

Costs in context

  • The conservative financial cost of mental ill-health in the UK is £117.9 billion.  This equates to 5% of the UK’s GDP
  • NHS England’s annual budget for the year 2019/20 was £150.4 billion
  • The cost of the UK’s furlough scheme was approximately £70 billion

Costs per nation

  • England: £100.8 billion
  • Scotland: £8.8 billion
  • Wales: £4.8 billion
  • Northern Ireland: £3.4 billion

Percentage of cost per age group

  • Age 0-14: 6%
  • Age 15-49: 56%
  • Age 50-69: 27%
  • Age 70 and over: 10%

About the Mental Health Foundation

  • Our vision is of good mental health for all
  • The Mental Health Foundation works to prevent mental health problems
  • We drive change towards a mentally healthy society for all, and support communities, families and individuals to lead mentally healthy lives with a particular focus on those at greatest risk
  • The Foundation is the home of Mental Health Awareness Week

About London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) is an internationally renowned university specialising in the social sciences. Its expertise spans a wide range of disciplines from economics, politics and law, to sociology, health policy, accounting and finance. 

As one of the most international universities in the world, the School’s diversity of people, ideas and interests make it an exciting centre for research, teaching and public engagement.

Established in 1895, the original vision of LSE as ‘a community of people and ideas, founded to know the causes of things, for the betterment of society’ remains true to this day.  It continues to use its research-led expertise to influence governments, NGOs, businesses and others to help tackle the world’s most pressing problems.

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