A long literature has examined the role of economic factors in promoting well-being. This has been a particularly active area for the last decade or so in Economics (summary of recent workshop we did on this topic with readings etc.,). Lately, a major topic of interest has been the role that mental health plays in producing economic outcomes at individual level. For example, an influential 2011 PNAS paper pointed to dramatic long-run economic effects of early life mental health conditions (see my review paper with one of the authors). Richard Layard has called mental health the new frontier of labour economics and argued for mass expansion of mental health research and treatments. A big focus of the discussion has been the idea that mental health has been systematically discounted compared to physical health conditions in terms of health funding. Various proposals have been put forward to enhance the profile of mental health service in the UK (the recent speech by Nick Clegg one of most prominent).
A few major points to come from this literature and worthy of wide debate in the Irish context include:
The utility losses (for want of a better phrase) of mental health conditions are enormous even outside of effects on productivity and income (e.g. paper here). The interaction of this with physical conditions is also very important. Chronic pain is one particularly important area that should have greater priority in debates on health care (see Alan Krueger on this here).
Childhood mental health has dramatic effects on later life economic outcomes. There is a strong rationale to increase funding for child mental health research and services. Many childhood mental health problems are practically ignored for the purpose of policy-making. For example, there exists almost no evidence on the long-run effects of prescribing stimulants to children diagnosed with ADHD with recent papers not exactly painting a glowing account of their usefulness (e.g. paper by Janet Currie here). If you reflect on it, it really is an odd state of affairs that such important questions are neglected. The role of school mental health services for primary school children and teenagers is another area that is important to debate more given the hugely predictive effect of early mental health on life-long trajectories.
Lord Layard and others have argued for a substantial expansion of talk-therapies and a wider roll-out across society (short article outlining this view here; see also Layard and Clark’s recently released book Thrive). In the context of high rates of unemployment still in Ireland and in particular high rates of youth unemployment, this is worth discussing a lot more in the Irish context. Developing funding streams for large-scale referrals for brief talk-therapies is one of the most concrete suggestions to come from the recent literature.
There is a strong rationale for examining the proportion of health funding allocated to mental health in Ireland. It is widely documented that mental health services in Ireland are given less priority compared to other countries (e.g. recent report here also O’Shea and Kennelly report).