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England’s just got its first mental health government minister

Half of us say we suffer from mental health problems and one in five of us have had suicidal thoughts.

What it means: Today, October 10th, is World Mental Health Day. Theresa May marked it by hosting the first ever global mental health summit, making Jackie Doyle-Price MP the first ever minister for mental health and promising to do more to support mental health problems in schools.

There are good economic reasons for the government to get involved in tackling mental health. It’s super keen to promote high productivity and full employment, which means everyone having a job and being good at it. Like any illness, mental health can stop people working as well as they could - it causes Brits to take 17.6 million sick days a year and stops 181,000 of us from getting a job at all. That has a knock on effect on the economy: studies suggest mental health wipes £25 billion off our GDP (the value of all the stuff we produce) each year.

The government dislikes all this for several reasons. One, we pay taxes on our wages, so less workers means less money for the government to spend. Two, unemployed or underemployed (where people aren’t working as much as they want to) often use government welfare, which our Conservative government thinks uses up public money that could be better spent on something else. Three, high employment and productivity is often linked to high economic growth, which this government thinks is important and proof they’re doing their job well.

Plenty of people think it would be better for us if our governments stopped focusing on economic growth and started focusing on improving people’s wellbeing instead. They think the true cost of mental health is not how many billions it takes off the economy but how much it affects people’s quality of life and how much it contributes to social inequality and individual’s financial problems.

They think the government has only increased people’s unhappiness through its programme of austerity, which aimed to improve our national finances (and economic growth) by cutting a lot of public spending. Including, btw, on the medical professionals, support groups and community programmes that help people with mental health issues. Might have been a bit of a false economy, that.

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