Blackburn with Darwen Council director of public health, Dominic Harrison, said ploughing money into treating people who present at A&E departments with severe mental health problems would not improve the situation in the long term.
And he called for change to the way mental health services are commissioned so people can access the help they need at an earlier stage.
Speaking at a Blackburn with Darwen Council people overview and scrutiny committee meeting, Mr Harrison said: “I think we are almost at the point with mental health where we can’t treat our way out of the problem.
“Putting more money into treatment will not help – it’s not a solution.”
“We need the money in neighbourhood and community services.
“It will need the commissioning side of the system to increase the spend and change the model so we invest in our communities.
“We have done a mental health needs assessment and CCG data shows that Blackburn with Darwen has the most people in contact with mental health services in the country as a proportion of the population.
“Mental health is probably much higher than you think in terms of the causes of A&E admissions.
“The challenge is identifying what we can do in communities to stop that.”
Director of strategic development for Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust, Sue Moore, added: “We have started a big piece of work on this. We realise the question is how can we stop people getting unwell in the first place.
“This is not like getting a physical health condition. Early intervention can be profoundly life changing in helping people break out of the cycle they are in.
Executive member for children’s services and education, Cllr Maureen Bateson, said while the last thing they wanted was for youngsters to end up in hospital with mental health problems, the provision in cases where they do end up in hospital is inadequate.
She said: “The top tier support for young people is abysmal.
“Trying to get a mental health bed for someone who really needs it is like looking for a needle in a haystack. They are just not there.”
Cllr Jacqui Slater added mental health issues could affect people from any background and it was not just limited to people from deprived backgrounds.