Local authorities in England spend an "unacceptably low" amount of money on public mental health, according to the charity Mind.
A report by the charity says on average just 1.4% of public health budgets is spent on mental health.
Public Health England welcomed the report and said there should be more investment at the local level.
The Local Government Association said councils did many positive things that the report had not recognised.
Public mental health includes interventions to prevent mental health problems, promote good mental health and ensure good physical health for people with mental health issues.
During NHS reforms in April 2013, the responsibility for this moved from primary care trusts to local government.
Of the 152 local authorities in England, 86 replied to Mind's freedom of information requests about public mental health budgets.
According to the charity, local authorities plan to spend £76m on increasing physical activity, £160m on anti-smoking initiatives and £671m on sexual health services in 2014/15. This compares with just £40m on public mental health.
Mind said spending on preventing mental health problems was just as important as physical health - particularly for vulnerable groups.
Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: "Mind's findings show that while local authorities are happy to spend on preventing physical health problems, their equivalent spending on mental health is unacceptably low.
"Local authorities need much clearer guidance and support on how best to tackle mental health problems.
"We want the next government to introduce a national strategy to ensure local authorities know what to do and use their budgets to prevent mental health problems developing."
Councillor Izzi Seccombe of the Local Government Association said: "While we welcome a discussion about public mental health, we think the focus of this report is too narrow.
"There are many things that councils do that impact positively on mental health but might not come with a mental health 'badge'.
"We would support the development of a national strategy that gives greater attention and focus to promoting mental health but would caution against any approach which dictates to local authorities and public health teams how to use their health promotion budgets."
Gregory Henderson of Public Health England said: "PHE welcomes this important report as it clearly underlines the need for more local investment in improving the public's mental health.
"The old adage 'prevention is better than cure' is also very much true for mental health and more needs to be done to help individuals, families and communities maintain and gain good mental health.
"There is good evidence on what local areas should be investing in and PHE is working in partnership to develop a national approach."
In 2015 Mind plans to train hairdressers, pub landlords, beauty therapists and restaurant staff to spot the signs of people struggling with mental health issues and to offer advice on local support services.
The project will run in Tameside, Oldham and Glossop and is based on a similar scheme that began in Norfolk in 2015. The Norfolk team trained more than 200 people in mental health first aid skills, providing guidance on listening techniques and how to identify the signs and symptoms of common mental health problems.