Mental health problems cost UK economy at least £118 billion a year - new research

What is clear is that there is a sound economic case for investing in effective preventive measures.
- David McDaid, LSE

Mental health problems cost the UK economy at least £117.9 billion annually according to a new report published today by Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The cost of mental health problems is equivalent to around 5 per cent of the UK’s GDP.

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 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.

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of Mental Health Foundation, said: “Our report reveals the monumental cost to the economy of poor mental health. It also demonstrates the opportunity to make a radical change in our approach to mental health by prioritising prevention, resulting in improved wellbeing for all and reducing costs to our economy.

“We urge governments across the UK to pay attention to what the evidence is telling us and commit to investing in cost-effective prevention interventions that are proven to work. Too often decision makers may ignore or dismiss evidence-based programmes and policies focused on prevention, citing prohibitive expense.  The truth is we cannot afford the spiralling costs to both people’s wellbeing and our economy by trying to treat our way out of the mental health crisis.  Investing in society-wide measures to prevent poor mental health and address the factors that pose a risk to our mental health, will help people to thrive at every stage of their lives and boost our economy by billions in the long-term.”  

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.

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 the 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 co-ordinated actions not only within the health and social care sector, but across the whole of government.”

The £117.9 billion cost 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 do 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. 

To read the full report visit

Behind the article

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 evidenced-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 £117.9bn.  This equates to 5 per cent of UK’s GDP. 

-          NHS England’s annual budget for the year 2019/20 was £150.4bn.

-          The cost of the UK’s furlough scheme was approximately £70bn

  • 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%