The failure to treat mental disorders like depression and anxiety in countries around the world is costing the global economy nearly US$1 trillion in lost productivity, according to a new study.
The study, led by the World Health Organization (WHO) and published in The Lancet, estimated that roughly 10 per cent of the world’s population, or about 740 million people, is affected by common mental health problems.
Researchers found that without further investment in treatment for mental health the global economy will lose 50 million years of work to depression and anxiety disorders each year between now and 2030.
The study pegged the annual loss to the world economy at US$925 billion.
The WHO arrived at the staggering numbers by reviewing hundreds of studies that looked at treatment costs and health outcomes in 36 countries worldwide.
Despite the stark outlook, the authors of the study say for every $1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety there is a $4 return in better health and ability to work.
They argue that while the estimated costs of scaling up treatment – primarily psychosocial counselling and antidepressant medication – amount to US$ 147 billion, there is a five per cent improvement in labour force participation and productivity. That’s worth about US$399 billion. Improved health adds another US$310 billion in returns.
They argue that all countries, regardless of wealth levels, need to invest more in mental health services. According to the WHO, governments on average spend only 3 per cent of their health budgets on mental health, with the proportion ranging from less than one per cent in low-income countries to five per cent in high-income ones.
“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, in a statement. “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.”
Researchers also noted that mental health issues are on the rise as the number of people with depression and/or anxiety grew by almost half, from 416 million to 615 million, between 1990 and 2013.