Over the past five or six years working on various research projects at Groundswell, many people have told me that that they have been unable to access counselling for their mental health issues. If people have managed to get the counselling they need, it is often after a long, protracted wait that can exacerbate existing problems.
Recently I spoke to someone in a progressive homeless hostel in London with access to on site CBT [Cognitive Bahavoural Therapy] as part of his tenancy. He had battled a pretty serious mental health condition for the best part of a decade but without counselling he had made little progress. The medication helped him sleep, which aint nothing, but he felt like he hadn’t made any real progress. He felt like he was, in effect, being book ended by the medication.
After two months of CBT at the hostel he talked about making real tangible progress. He had cut down on his medication and had started to think about recovery as something more than just coping with each day.
Mental health problems can seriously exacerbate physical illness, affecting outcomes and the cost of treatment. The effect of poor mental health on physical illnesses is estimated to cost the NHS at least £8 billion a year, while medically unexplained physical symptoms often have a basis in poor mental health and are estimated to cost the NHS a further £3 billion each year. 
People with severe mental illnesses also have significantly higher rates of physical illness – with a dramatic effect on life-expectancy.
Figure 1 The overlap between long-term conditions and mental health problems 
While cost is often given as a reason for not providing people with counselling in a time frame that would benefit them the most, it seems to me that by failing to provide timely and effective treatment, we are myopically adding to the cost of care in the long run.
People with ineffectively treated mental health issues end up getting sicker, both mentally and physically and this ends up costing the NHS a lot more in the long run.
With 45% of people experiencing homelessness and 80% of those sleeping rough diagnosed with a mental health condition, it isn’t hard to see how important this issue is.
Sources of information
- Bermingham et al (2010). Research paper. The cost of somatisation among the working-age population in England for the year 2008–09’. Mental Health in Family Medicine Vol 7, no 2, pp 71–84
- Source: Naylor C, Parsonage M, McDaid D, Knapp M, Fossey M, Galea A (2012). Report. Long-term conditions and mental health. The cost of co- morbiditiesThe King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health