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The Cost of Ignoring Mental Health

The Cost of Ignoring Mental Health, by Alvin Robertson

What are the costs for society that result from ignoring mental health challenges?

Something that I had never considered before entering the field of Behavioral Health was the economic burden to society. As a person in recovery – both in terms of substance abuse and mental health – I was very familiar with the burden at the individual and family levels, and these are by no means insignificant. But what has our cultural avoidance of seriously seeking to provide treatment to those struggling with mental health (of an acuity) cost us in terms of cold hard cash?

Shadow of man walking on road

The short answer is “there’s no way to really know”. We can calculate a rough estimate based on lack of employment, cost of treatment, and various miscellaneous costs associated with having what can be a chronic disability at a young age. What we cannot calculate is the loss of revenue that might have come from any of the bright minds lost to suicide, or unable to cope with their mental health well enough to fulfill their dreams and aspirations. We can’t put a value on the emotional torment felt by those that struggle, and those close to them who feel helpless in the face of adversity that we continue to understand better every year.

Statistics on the Cost of Ignoring Mental Health

In a study published by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in 2009, they estimate the annual National burden to be about US$57.5 billion per annum (in 2006). This was approximately the equivalent of cancer care that same year, however, the cost for mental health came more from loss of income due to unemployment, social supports, and indirect costs whereas the cost of cancer comes primarily from direct treatment/care.

This may seem astonishing, but only 2 years later the World Economic Forum released a study projecting the global economic cost of heart disease, chronic lung diseases, diabetes, cancer, and mental health from 2010 to 2030. In this study, they share data from the World Health Organization that shows mental health as the leading cause of disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) at 37% of healthy years lost by non-communicable diseases, and an estimated global annual cost increase of US$2.5 trillion in 2010 to over US$6 trillion in 2030. To put this in perspective, the global GDP in 2010 was just under US$63 trillion and the global spending on mental health was US$5.1 trillion.

What Can We Do?

The personal, familial, and societal costs of ignoring mental health are severe. So, what can we do about it? Spread awareness, fight against stigma, make treatment more accessible, become more informed ourselves, and work to create a more inclusive environment. The number of effective medications and treatments continues to increase. Our understanding of the brain and genetics has never been higher. A large part of our mission here at the Overt Foundation is to grow a community that is active and aware. Thank you for your efforts to become better informed. Please join us as we continue learning ourselves and providing that knowledge and treatment to others.

Alvin Robertson 

Alvin grew up in Southwest Missouri and struggled with depression and addiction from the age of 11. He also has had extreme social anxiety his whole life. Alvin is a veteran of the US Army, and enjoys spending his time doing martial arts, shooting, and reading. Alvin now works as a Behavioral and Peer Support Specialist at a residential treatment center. 

If you or anyone you know is facing mental health challenges and needs support, we can help you.

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