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New research will help workplaces, schools and communities make informed decisions on mental health prevention spend

19th August 2019

Today the National Mental Health Commission (the Commission) has released economic modelling which shows that investing in mental health prevention initiatives yields positive returns. Analysis indicates that prevention interventions targeted to workplaces, schools and specific members of the community including new mothers and older persons can bring economic benefit. National Mental Health Commission Chair, Lucy Brogden said of the research: “This research translated into practical models for implementation by workplaces, schools and the community has the potential to change and save lives. “Of the ten models that were looked at, nine have a positive return on investment, meaning the cost savings of the interventions are greater than their estimated cost. More work will be needed to apply this learning to different environments, but it absolutely shows that investing in preventative interventions is worthwhile.”

Every year, around 8 million working days are lost due to mental illness. Poor mental health also has economic consequences beyond healthcare, with costs incurred in other systems such as education, justice, housing and aged care.

The NMHC engaged Deakin Health Economics with support from an expert Steering Committee, to explore the return on investment for ten prevention interventions by modelling their cost effectiveness and cost savings to the community. A summary of the research and more detail on the individual interventions is available at: http://mentalhealthcommission.gov.au/our-work/update-economics-of-mental-health-in-australia.aspx. Steering Committee Chair, Mr Timothy Marney, former Mental Health Commissioner for Western Australia and head of Treasury, calls for Government, business and community to look carefully at the results of this project and consider how this convincing evidence, that investing in preventative interventions can deliver better mental health outcomes in a cost-effective manner: “With my economics hat on, the return on investment speaks for itself. These interventions are not only doable but potentially scalable in workplaces, schools and communities across the country. More importantly, for people like me and so many others who have lived or are living with mental illness and distress this presents invaluable opportunities for every Australian to benefit from early intervention, increasing our potential to live contributing, thriving lives.”

MORE INFORMATION

This project looks at the potential benefits of ten specific interventions, both in terms of improved mental health, and their impact on the Australian economy, through levels of improved productivity and health system cost savings. The ten interventions modelled in this project include:

  • Two interventions delivered via the workplace to promote good mental health and prevent depression.
  • Two interventions (one physical, one psychological) for prevention of postnatal depression.
  • Two psychological interventions in school settings for the prevention of bullying and depression in children.
  • One parenting intervention for the prevention of anxiety disorders in children.
  • One e-Health intervention for prevention of anxiety disorders in young people.
  • Two interventions (one e-Health, one educational) to reduce older persons loneliness.

The most recent comprehensive data available indicates that, in 2016–17, the national recurrent expenditure on mental health–related services was around $9.1 billion.1 Every year, around 8 million working days are lost due to mental illness.2 Poor mental health also has economic consequences beyond healthcare, with other costs incurred such as in the areas of justice, aged care, housing and education. It is estimated that close to half (45.5%) of the Australian population between 16 and 85 years of age will experience a common mental illness, such as an anxiety, affective or substance use disorder, at some stage in their lifetime.

It is also estimated that 20% of the population experience a common mental illness each year. Of these, anxiety disorders (such as social phobia) are the most prevalent, affecting 1 in 7 (14.4%) people, followed by affective disorders (such as depression) (6.2%), and substance use disorders (such as alcohol dependence) (5.1%).3 It is clear therefore, that all levels of government have a vested interest in both the social and economic costs of mental illness.

Work completed by KPMG and Mental Health Australia4 in 2018 estimated $90 million in savings would be available in the short term if targeted investment in prevention and early intervention was increased, highlighting the significant economic gains that could be made. Following on from this work, the Commission funded Deakin Health Economics to build the evidence base for specific interventions using economic modelling. The objective is to assist policy makers, funders, commissioning bodies and other organisations to make informed choices about the best use of resources to prevent mental illness in our community.

A summary of the research and more detail on the individual interventions is available at:

http://mentalhealthcommission.gov.au/our-work/update-economics-of-mental-health-inaustralia.aspx 

This article was originally published at National Mental Health Commission.

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