Depressing state of mental health: 50% increase in cases since 1990, but investment by govt remains abysmal

Incidents of depression and anxiety globally have increased by 50 percent since 1990, costing the economy more than $1 trillion every year, the WHO stated, urging national governments to invest more in mental health.

Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50 percent, from 416 million to 615 million, revealed a WHO-led study of 36 low, middle and high-income countries covering 80 percent of the world population. The findings were published in The Lancet Psychiatry on 12 April.

“Around 10 per cent of the (global) population has one or more mental disorders at any point in time. Mental disorders cause death,” said Dr Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

80 per cent of the people likely to experience an episode of a mental disorder in their lifetime come from low and middle-income countries.

By 2030, 90 per cent of the world’s extreme poor will live in settings of conflict and violence, said Dr Tim Evans, Senior Director for the Health, Nutrition and Population at the World Bank, exacerbating conditions of mental disorder.

Though not every event of depression and anxiety leads to suicide but it is a "major reason" for taking one's life, Dr Saxena said.

Depression and anxiety also cause "massive disabilities' — as high as 30 per cent of all disabilities are due to mental disorder.

Both mental ailments together cause $1 trillion loss to the global economy.

A whopping 8,00,000 people die due to suicide every year which is one suicide every 40 seconds, according to the UN health agency.

“These are deaths that are quite unnecessary and avoidable,” the WHO stated.

In WHO’s first suicide report “Preventing suicide: a global imperative” published in 2014, it is estimated that around 30 per cent of global suicides are due to pesticide self-poisoning, most of which occur in rural agricultural areas in low and middle-income countries. Other common methods of suicide are hanging and firearms.

However, in spite of such huge costs to the economy, investments by governments in improving the mental health of its population is abysmal. According to WHO’s Mental Health Atlas 2014 survey, governments spend on average 3 percent of their health budgets on mental health, ranging from less than 1 percent in low-income countries to 5 percent in high-income countries. A substantial gap thus exists between treatment needs and its availability.

India alone is a 'global leader' of sorts with one-third of all the suicides globally happening in India.

"It is a large country but even then it is a large figure," Dr Saxena said.

According to an article by BBC, Indian housewives are disproportionately "affected" by suicide comprising 47 percent of the total female victims. 20,000 housewives killed themselves in 2014, which is 250 percent more than farmer suicides that year.

However, India has only 0.3 psychiatrist, 0.12 nurse, 0.7 psychologist, 0.7 social workers per 1,00,000 population, according to the WHO Mental Health Atlas 2014. At the time of the publication of the report, the government in the last two years had not compiled any mental health data.

India also has a large amount of alcohol problem, which is connected to the high prevalence of mental disorders and of suicide.

“Increasing proportion of budget within the health sector should be spent on mental health and that is the only sustainable method of increasing investment in mental health,” Dr Saxena stated urging governments to invest more and pay more attention to these afflictions.

The latest WHO study on mental health, however, shows a positive spin-off for the national economy in investing in strengthening the mental health of its population—for every dollar invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of $4 in better health and ability to work.

The estimated costs of scaling up treatment, primarily psychosocial counselling and anti-depressant medication, amounted to US$ 147 billion.

“Yet the returns far outweigh the costs,” states the report. A five percent improvement in labour force participation and productivity is valued at US$ 399 billion, and improved health adds another US$ 310 billion in returns.

The WHO is co-hosting a series of events with World Bank on 13 and 14 April in Washington DC bringing 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 and in countries".

Comparing the situation of HIV/AIDS two decades ago to depression and anxiety issues in present times, Dr Evans said, "This week we are kick-starting a similar movement with respect to mental health".

"We know that (HIV/AIDS) situation changed," he added.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2016 13:54:17 IST

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