Britain must embrace psychological therapy for mental health problems

April 27, 2006

Britain must embrace psychological therapies on a large scale if we are to tackle our mental health problems effectively, argues a leading economist in this week's BMJ.

Depression and anxiety disorders cost the UK around £17bn in lost output. New drug treatments are now available to all, but psychological therapies are not. Yet the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends psychological therapy as a cost effective treatment.

So should the Treasury support psychological therapy?

Professor Richard Layard of the London School of Economics believes it should. He shows that the benefits of psychological therapy exceed the cost. "There is no net cost to the government because of savings on incapacity benefits and other NHS costs," he writes.

So, what scale of expansion is needed and how should it be organised?

To implement the NICE guidelines requires 10,000 more therapists, says Layard. The extra therapists should work in teams based in centres, but much of the therapy should be delivered to people near their homes, in general practices, job centres and workplaces.

He believes that training this number of therapists is feasible over a seven year period, and recommends that 250 of these psychological treatment centres should be set up over the next seven years.

"If this is well done, it could transform the lives of millions, at no net cost to the Exchequer," he concludes. An accompanying editorial argues that it is time we treated depression as the chronic disease that it is.


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