Every U.S. dollar invested in improving treatment for depression and anxiety can lead to a return of $4.00 U.S in improved health and the ability to work, says the World Health Organization (WHO). WHO researchers investigated the economic and health benefits of improving treatments for these conditions on a global scale. The study was published in the journal The Lancet Psychiatry on April 13, 2016.
“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 Dr 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.”
Researchers say that common mental disorders are rising globally, affecting 10 percent of the world population. The number of patients diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety has increased by nearly 50 percent (416 million to 615 million), and WHO estimates that up to one in five people are affected by depression and anxiety.
For this study, researchers calculated health outcomes and treatment costs in 36 low, middle, and high income countries from the years 2016 to 2030. They estimated that the cost of increasing treatment such as antidepressant medication and psychosocial counselling would cost $147 billion U.S. This investment brings a fourfold return by improving labor workforce participation and productivity by five percent (valued at $399 billion). Improved health benefits add another $310 billion in returns. According to the WHO’s Mental Health Atlas 2014 survey, governments spend an average of three percent of their health budgets on mental health, ranging from less than one percent in low-income countries to five percent 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. We need to act now because the lost productivity is something the global economy simply cannot afford.”
WHO and the World Bank hosted a series of meetings in Washington D.C. on April 13 and 14, 2016, of development agencies, ministers of finance, and academic experts to discuss feasible, cost-effective, and affordable ways to improve global mental health care.
“Mental health needs to be a global humanitarian and development priority — and a priority in every country,” said Arthur Kleinman, professor of medical anthropology and psychiatry at Harvard University and an expert on global mental health. “We need to provide treatment, now, to those who need it most, and in the communities where they live. Until we do, mental illness will continue to eclipse the potential of people and economies.”