Warning of mental illness ‘ticking timebomb’

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MENTAL illness is a ticking timebomb, with more people needing help at a time when council budgets are being slashed, leading charities have warned.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has previously predicted that depression will be the second-biggest cause of illness by 2020.

With this date looming, councils – which took responsibility for public health in April – have been urged to make the issue a priority.

The director of external relations at the charity Mind, Sophie Corlett, said: “As public health teams find their feet within local authorities, now is a key moment to be making the case for the importance of public mental 
health.

“We want to see teams recognising that improving the wellbeing of their community will improve their wider health outcomes as well as saving money.

“Local authorities must grasp this opportunity now as we cannot afford for mental health to be forgotten.”

Those authorities, however, are already dealing with swingeing budget cuts. Earlier this month, it was revealed that Yorkshire councils may have to find further savings of up to £150m as a result of unforeseen cuts.

Councils in the region were already expecting to have to find £300m of savings after Chancellor George Osborne set out his spending plans for the 2015-16 financial year.

But further details that emerged a fortnight ago revealed that 
that figure could end up being loser to £450m. Calculations by SIGOMA, the body representing towns and cities across the North, suggest Yorkshire councils could each have to find an extra £5m in savings on top of what they expected from the spending review.

At the same time, the charity Mind has seen 50 per cent more calls to its “Infoline” in 2012/13 than the previous year.

Charities Mind and the Mental Health Foundation have now published Building Resilient Communities, a report calling on 
every council to prioritise mental health within their public health strategy.

A spokesman for Mind said: “Just as public health teams help people to stop smoking or prevent physical illnesses, they can help people to reduce things like stress and anxiety and build resilience to cope with life’s challenges.

“However, with the public health grant only ringfenced until 2015, there is an urgent need for local councils to do their bit and deliver on the Government’s commitment to parity of esteem by making mental health a key part of local public health plans.”

Simon Lawton-Smith, head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, warned that public mental health is neglected “at our peril.”

He added: “Local authorities must seize this opportunity to develop clear public mental health strategies.”

The economic crash, meanwhile, has been blamed for making mental health problems even more prevalent. Dr Karen O’Connor, based at Heeley Green surgery in Sheffield, said: “Stress, anxiety and depression are all common during times of financial difficulty.

“But while the economic climate may increase people’s need for support, we know that communication or mobility issues, as well as stigma and discrimination, can sometimes make it tricky for people to ask for help.”

She urge patients affected to speak to their GP.