Up to 40 percent of all sickness and disability caseloads in OECD countries are related to problems with mental health, which in turn costs around 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in Europe, according to a new OECD report.

An outcome from the research, entitled Fit Mind, Fit Job: From Evidence to Practice in Mental Health and Work, is the suggestion that health and employment services should intervene earlier and ensure they collaborate in order to help people with mental illness find work and keep it.

OECD secretary-general Angel GurrĂ­a said at a launch event in The Hague:

“Mental health issues exact a high price on individuals, their families, employers and the economy. Policymakers have been too slow to act. Strong political leadership is needed to drive reform and tackle this issue.”

The personal costs of mental ill-health have been found to be high. People with disorders such as anxiety and depression are twice as likely to become unemployed than their mentally healthy counterparts. They also run a higher risk of suffering social marginalisation and living below the poverty line.

Although the stigma surrounding mental health has reduced in recent years, the OECD feel that recognition of these disorders still needs to be improved. The report states that early intervention is critical yet found that it can take more than ten years between the onset of illness and the first treatment in most countries.

The organisation finds this cause for concern. Under-treatment rates are highest among young people and waiting times for counselling are longest. Action taken within the workplace or an educational institution offer a more lasting benefit than the sufferer not receiving help until the condition has negatively impacted their life in a permanent way, such as when they have left a job.

The mismatch between the needs of people suffering from mental ill-health and the services provided to them is one of the biggest problems, according to the report. Current policies are often delivered in silos by health, employment and education services. Creating an integrated system would deliver much better, faster outcomes.

An overview of the report is available here.