The Insanity ​​Behind Mental Health Economics

It does not take an Econ genius to determine the adverse relationship between the economy and mental health, whether these be direct costs, such as therapy or other mental health program expenses, or indirect costs such as loss in labour productivity. However, what is the monetary value of such a toll? 

Experts estimate that mental health problems cost an astonishing US$2.5 trillion globally in 2010. Even the EU, renowned for its established healthcare system and accessibility to resources, carried a financial burden of €798 billion in 2010 from mental illness-associated costs. 

With $2.5 trillion you could buy 100% of Apple stock and proceed to purchase all thirty-two NFL teams with the change. Sums of this magnitude rarely remain under the radar of the business world, but in this case, perhaps they have. The quantity of the mental health cases around the world can classify this issue as a pandemic itself.  

The mental health pandemic maintains an ever-growing, dominant global presence. As of 2017, one in five, or 46.6 million U.S. adults were diagnosed with a mental illness. 1.2 million struggle with an​ SMI (Serious Mental Illness) which limits daily activities due to clinically diagnosed functional impairment. The World Health Organisation recognised suicide as the third most common cause of death amongst people aged 15-19 and ranked depression as the primary cause of disability globally.  

 Researcher​ and co-editor of IJMPR (International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research), Sebastian Trautmann says, “mental disorders… account for more economic costs than chronic somatic diseases such as cancer or diabetes”, two of the “priciest” chronic diseases, known for lofty medical bills. Trautmann’s claim proves indirect costs of mental illness must be high, given direct costs of cancer and diabetes are, on average, significantly higher than those of mental health care. Of the US$2.5 trillion spent on mental health, an overwhelming US$1.7 trillion sum is accounted for by indirect​ mental health related costs. The 2011 WEF (World Economic Forum) report, The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases, ​highlights the significance of indirect costs of non-communicable diseases and the influence mental health has on economic growth in the macroeconomy. The report identifies indirect costs of mental health such as lack of efficiency, calculated using DALYs (disability-adjusted life years), and reduction in workforce due to premature retirement or mental health related work absences. A case study published in BJ Pysch Open calculated US$760 million in 2015 went to the indirect costs of depression. A majority of this loss is accounted for in lost taxes due to depression’s influence on PLYs (productive life years). 

Academic psychiatrist and mental healthcare leader Neil Greenberg reveals his concern for lack of mental health care in the European health care system “Europe [is] burdened with severely unwell patients with constrained or inadequate resources” Greenberg says. United States health officials share similar sentiments. 

This is all before the compounding factors of the Covid-19 pandemic. The numbers now are much more harrowing.

Historically, global crises led to a spike in mental health cases. A case study conducted in 2007, revealed a disheartening 1.6% increase in suicide rate for every percentage jump in the unemployment rate during the Great Recession. This trend holds true in several other historical contexts. Research conducted on employees in a hospital in Beijing, China studied SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), a disease that shares various epidemiological ties to Covid-19. The study concluded 10% of SARS victims displayed symptoms of posttraumatic stress following the outbreak. Friends and family of the sick individuals also risked being two to three times more likely to develop high levels of PTSD symptoms. Covid-19 also inspires increased levels of worsened mental health. 

The US Federal Emergency hotline reported a 1000% increase in call volume this April in comparison to the year prior. Similarly, an online therapy site, Talkspace, saw an astounding 65% jump in clients from mid-February to April. Furthermore, like the SARS case study, a study conducted by research scientist Bo and others in China showed 96.2% of recovered Covid-19 patients had some PTSD symptoms, proving Covid-19 worsens global mental health. A further study scanned the brain of a Covid recovered patient to find neurological conditions in 25% of the sample group. It​ is crucial to consider that typically mental conditions such as PTSD have lasting effects and require significant time commitments in order for the patient to fully recover. This has a negative effect on the economics of mental health. If individuals are taking long periods of time off for medical leave, labour productivity is lost, which is a significant element of the indirect costs of mental illness. 

Officials are raising concerns about the unpreparedness of the mental health system in the face of Covid-19. Mental health care facilities are left scraping the bottom of the pan for fractions of the trillions of dollars that was invested in emergency Covid-19 funds. As a result, community behavioural health centres, which cater to individuals with a high risk for mental health issues, are having difficulty staying financially afloat. Several other roadblocks such as issues with online therapies, licensing and reimbursement policies are stifling recovery.  

With the looming threat of Covid-19 and future potential pandemics, governments need to continue developing and expanding mental health care programs to develop efficient solutions to keep mental health costs from increasing in the future.  

Kira Siebrecht

“The Global Economic Burden of NonCommunicable Diseases”​- EMBO reports​  

“The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis”​- The Washington Post 

“The Psychological Impact of the SARS Epidemic on Hospital Employees in China: Exposure, Risk Perception, and Altruistic Acceptance of Risk” ​- The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 

“The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Suicide Rates”​- Oxford Academic 

“Managing mental health challenges faced by healthcare workers during covid-19 pandemic”​- The BMJ

“The Global Economic Burden of Non-communicable Diseases”​- World Economic Forum  

“Urgent Need for Improved Mental Health Care and a More Collaborative Model of Care”​- The  Permanente Journal (or US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health 

“Depression”​- World Health Organization 

“ Indirect costs of depression and other mental and behavioural disorder for Australia from 2015 to 2030”​- BJ Pysch Open  

“Mental Illness”​- National Institute of Mental Health 

“Are COVID-19 survivors at  increased risk for suicide”​- Cambridge University Press Public Health Emergency Collection 

“Apple is Worth $2 Trillion- 1st American Company to Hit Milestone”​- NPR 

“How Much is a Trillion dollars? What a Trillion can Buy”- Fox News Business 

The views in this article are the author’s own, and may not reflect the opinions of The Liberty Club

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