Mental health problems cost the Northern Ireland economy at least GBP 3.4 billion a year - new research

Location: Northern Ireland

2nd Mar 2022
  • Mental Health Foundation calls for the Northern Ireland Executive to invest in cost-effective prevention of poor mental health

  • Cost to UK economy is at least £117.9 billion

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.

Mental health problems cost the Northern Irish economy at least £3.4 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 Queen’s University Belfast.

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.

Across the UK there were 10.3 million recorded instances of mental ill-health in a one-year period and the third most common cause of disability was depression. The economic cost of mental health problems for the UK as a whole is £117.8 billion per year.

Shari McDaid, Head of Evidence and Impact at Mental Health Foundation, said: “Our report demonstrates the high cost of allowing mental health problems to develop before offering support. We can’t keep trying to treat our way out of the growing mental health crisis; investing in prevention that addresses the root causes of poor mental health is essential to ensure good mental health for all. There is a real opportunity for a dramatic shift in our approach to mental health in Northern Ireland. We urge the Northern Ireland Executive to invest in programmes that support people to live well and prevent mental health problems from developing or worsening. In doing so, we can reduce the prevalence of mental ill-health and boost the economy.”

Research shows the potential public health and economic benefit of programmes that target and prevent mental health problems. 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 supportive workplaces. A growing number of studies report on the significant return on investment from parenting programmes. Methods and costs vary but all of the parenting programmes examined cover a long-time frame, reporting 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.

Professor Siobhan O’Neill, Mental Health Champion for Northern Ireland, said: “This sobering report highlights the annual cost of our failure to address and prevent mental illness and I am grateful to Mental Health Foundation and all those involved in producing this important research. £3.4 billion a year is a staggering figure, particularly when we consider that a substantial proportion of these illnesses are preventable and treatable. The report clearly illustrates how investing in mental health not only reduces the levels of suffering across our society but also makes good economic sense.

“The Mental Health Strategy is a strong plan which incorporates many of the prevention and early intervention activities recommended in this report. In order to implement all the actions in full, the Strategy requires £1.2 billion across ten years. This represents a 34% increase in funding to this part of the Health budget. The funding uplift would bring us into line with the mental health spending per capita in England, which is currently 31% higher than Northern Ireland. Today’s report also illustrates the importance of early intervention and prevention and affirms the importance of the work undertaken in this area. A piecemeal approach to mental health is not acceptable, this Strategy must be implemented in full. I am therefore calling on our political parties to make a commitment to plug the gap in funding for mental health, and to deliver full funding for the Mental Health Strategy so that we can reduce the terrible burden of mental illness across society.”

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 £3.4 billion costs to the Northern Ireland economy is likely to be a significant under-estimate 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 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.

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

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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