|Turning People Into Patients|
Ed Miliband has been talking about mental illness, arguing that celebrities should stop demeaning the mentally ill. He talked about how it costs our economy tens of billions of pounds a year. He's right that it's a really important subject, with big economic implications. Between 1995 and 2005 about half a million extra people registered for Incapacity Benefit (IB) because of a mental illness, taking the total to about 1.1 million. (Shown in the top graph). Claims for mental illness grew even faster than other Incapacity Benefit claims. Since 2005 the numbers claiming incapacity benefits for other reasons have fallen back about 15 per cent, but the numbers claiming for a mental illness have still been inching up – although the big surge has ended.
The combination of those two things means that the proportion of claims for incapacity benefits accounted for by mental illness has gone up and up. In fact it's now mental illness – rather than, say, a bad back or a broken arm – that's now the number one reason why people claim sick benefits.
What's going on? Did lots of people suddently develop mental health problems in the 1990s? It's difficult to compare statistics from before Incapacity Benefit replaced Invalidity Benefit and Sickness Benefit in 1995.
But if we look at the proportion of working days lost to different types of illness shows that the rising importance of mental illness started in the 1970s or 1980s. (shown in the graph below). The number of claims for Invalidity Benefit for a mental illness went up about 47 per cent in the seventies, and 57 per cent in the 1980s.
What else do we know about this huge change in our society? Younger people are much more likely to be incapacitated by mental illness rather than other causes. In fact 60 per cent of young (25-34) men claiming IB or ESA are doing so for a mental illness, compared to 31 per cent of 55-59 year olds.
Looking at specific problems, depression is the most common reason for claiming (accounting for 509,000 claims last year). 128,000 people claimed for an anxiety disorder, and while other big causes were neurosis (56,000) alcoholism (56,000), schizophrenia (53,000), retardation (49,000), severe stress (49,000), and drug abuse (42,000). And people have these problems for a long time. More than a quarter of those claiming IB for depression or anxiety disorders have been claiming for more than 10 years
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