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Better Mental Health Treatment Can Help Global Economy: WHO

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Investing in mental health care can lead to massive economic returns, reveals the World Health Organization in a study released Tuesday.

According to the findings, every U.S. dollar devoted to treating depression and anxiety translates to a return of $4 in improved health and work productivity. However, most countries allot far less than this amount — they spend 3 percent of their health budget on average for mental health, which can go as low as less than 1 percent in low-income nations.

"[T]his new study confirms that [mental health treatment] makes sound economic sense too,” said WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan, calling for enhanced access to these services for people anywhere in the world.

The report warned that common mental issues are on the rise worldwide, increasing by nearly half from 1990 to 2013, or from 416 million to 615 million. Nearly 10 percent of the world’s population is affected by mental disorders, which also account for a third of non-fatal diseases around the globe.

Conflicts and humanitarian crises are also affecting mental wellness. In emergency situations, one in five individuals is hit by depression and anxiety, WHO estimated.

The study calculated treatment costs and impacts in 36 countries for up to 2030. While treatment like antidepressant medication and psychosocial therapy racked up $147 billion in costs, the returns are seen to be far greater: a 5 percent higher participation and productivity in the labor force value at $399 billion. Enhanced wellness, too, provides another $310 billion.

Poor attention and spending on mental health could take a toll on development, added World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, urging people to act now as the global economy “simply cannot afford” the lost productivity from these conditions.

In an April 13 to 14 conference hosted by the two agencies, finance ministers, development agencies, and academics and experts will help trigger increased investments in mental health. They will also discuss successful initiatives amid challenges, including Brazil’s psychosocial care network and South Africa positioning mental health treatment in its revitalized primary health care structure.

Last year, as enshrined in 17 Sustainable Development Goals, world leaders included mental health in an ambitious plan to eradicate poverty and inequality by 2030.

The findings were published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry.

A separate study earlier this month warned that climate change could adversely affect mental health as it raises the risk of depression, general anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Photo: Sprout Creative | Flickr

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