Photo: iStockphoto
Photo: iStockphoto

Depression, anxiety cost world $1 trillion each year: WHO study

The World Health Organization study presents a strong argument for greater investment in mental health services in countries of all income levels

New Delhi: Depression and anxiety disorders cost the global economy $1 trillion each year, estimates a World Health Organization study.

In a first of its kind analysis, linking both health and economic benefits of treatment of mental illnesses, the study shows that the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety between 1990 and 2013 increased by nearly 50% to 615 million. The study calculated that financial returns are more than four times the investment made in treating mental health patients.

The study, published in The Lancet Psychiatry on Tuesday, presents a strong argument for greater investment in mental health services in countries of all income levels.

“We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too," said Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO.

“We must now find ways to make sure that access to mental health services becomes a reality for all men, women and children, wherever they live."

Mental disorders account for 30% of the global non-fatal disease burden. Humanitarian emergencies and ongoing conflict add further to the need to scale-up treatment options. WHO estimates that as many as one in five people are affected by depression and anxiety during emergencies.

The estimated costs of scaling up treatment for all patients, primarily psychosocial counselling and anti-depressant medication, amounted to $147 billion from 2016-2030, according to the study.

The authors calculated treatment costs and health outcomes in 36 low-, middle- and high-income countries for 15 years from 2016-2030.

The returns will, however, outweigh the costs. After being treated for anxiety and depression, an improvement in participation of labour force and productivity is valued at $399 billion. In addition, improvement in health will bring another $310 billion in returns.

However, the current investment in mental health services is far lower than what is needed. According to WHO’s Mental Health Atlas 2014 survey, governments spend on average 3% of their health budgets on mental health, ranging from less than 1% in low-income countries to 5% in high-income countries.

“Despite hundreds of millions of people around the world living with mental disorders, mental health has remained in the shadows," said Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group. “This is not just a public health issue—it’s a development issue."

Against the backdrop of the study, the World Bank and the WHO are organizing a meet on 13-14 April, as part of the World Bank Group-International Monetary Fund Spring Meetings in Washington DC. The meeting will bring ministers of finance, development agencies, academic experts and practitioners to discuss how to put mental health at the centre of the health and development agenda globally.

During the events, countries like Brazil, Ethiopia and South Africa, which have been successful in scaling up mental health care, will present the challenges they faced and how they were overcome.

Scaling up mental health services will contribute to achievement of one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, endorsed at the United Nations General Assembly in 2015: by 2030, it seeks to reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being.

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