With the direct financial costs of mental illness in the UK estimated at £41.8 billion per annum (and the broader indirect economic losses estimated to be as much as £77 billion), there has never been a more pertinent time to talk about how good mental health services can save money. As well as the benefits to the individual, if we can demonstrate the benefits to the state, we make a compelling case for further investment in specific services.

This week Mind launches our campaign to promote ecotherapy, with the publication of our report Feel better outside, feel better inside: Ecotherapy for mental wellbeing, resilience and recovery’ . The report draws upon learning from the Big Lottery supported Ecominds programme, which funded 130 projects across England with activities including gardening, food growing, green exercise and environmental conservation work.

The programme was evaluated by the University of Essex and their report shows a demonstrably positive affect on people’s mental health and well-being, with seven in ten people (69%) experiencing a significant increase in well-being by the time they left an Ecominds project and three in five people (62%) with mental health problems reported an increase in self-esteem.

However, Mind also knew that these projects are saving money. In the public health realm they are providing a preventative service that reduces demand on more acute services, as well as offering pathways to employment, volunteering and training. They are mental health treatments that are often peer led and in groups, using spaces that are free or cheap. And projects are adding value to local green spaces, enhancing and protecting them.

To test some of these assumptions and demonstrate the savings, Mind engaged nef consulting in conducting an economic analysis of five typically representative individuals taking part in different Ecominds projects. Three kinds of economic benefits were to the State were identified:

  • reduced direct costs – reduced use of NHS mental health services, reduced prescription costs
  • reduced indirect costs – avoiding paying job seekers allowance, personal independence allowance (previously disabled living allowance)
  • increased revenue – through tax and national insurance contributions.

In one year alone, the five people generated savings and contributions of £35,413. The highest savings made were when an individual was able to secure employment and using nef consulting’s figures we can demonstrate that getting just 254 people from the programme back into full-time employment resulted in £1.46m worth of savings and contributions to the State in just one year.

One of the case studies was from the Growing Well project in Cumbria demonstrating total health and State savings and contributions associated with the person reaching full-time employment to be £12,799.63. The project estimates the cost of supporting one individual to be £5,400, resulting in a positive benefit of £7,399.63.

This work by nef consulting has demonstrated that ecotherapy can have an economic benefit to the state in times when budgets in health and social care commissioning are tight. Building upon nef consulting‘s work, it is possible in the future we could demonstrate even greater savings, especially taking into account the social value ecotherapy adds locally through increased awareness of green issues, recycling, local employment and feeling part of our communities.

Much of what Mind is saying echoes nef recent work on the economic value of nature with the Natural Solutions report. There are a growing number of organisations demonstrating that engagement with the natural environment is not only nice, but hugely important and beneficial. Join us in making the case for ecotherapy in your local area by emailing your Health and Wellbeing Board Chair