Mental Illness, Substance Abuse ‘Leading Causes of Non-Fatal Disease’
In order to fully and accurately evaluate the global impact of various diseases and harmful health conditions, researchers in the United States and Australia analyzed extensive medical data collected from more than 180 countries representing every geographical region on the planet. Working under the auspices of the 2010 Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries and Risk Factors Study, these investigators were able to compare and contrast a wide range of medical conditions, and after crunching all of the numbers, they discovered that mental health and substance use disorders are now the world’s leading cause of non-fatal disease.
For the purposes of this study, 20 different conditions were categorized under the mental health and substance use disorder umbrella, including depression, drug and alcohol abuse, idiopathic intellectual disabilities, and all known anxiety, childhood behavior, and pervasive development disorders. A study such as this would have been difficult to perform in the past since legitimate statistics on mental health disorders were often sparse or non-existent, especially in the developing world, but, fortunately, global awareness about mental illness has grown to the point where these conditions are now being recognized and diagnosed everywhere with much greater accuracy.
A Closer Look At Mental Health And Substance Abuse
In total, the conditions grouped together under the mental health and substance use disorder classification accounted for 22.8 percent of the global non-fatal disease burden, making them a greater factor for serious illness than such highly-publicized health problems as HIV/AIDS, diabetes and tuberculosis.
Breaking that 22.8 percent down into specific conditions, depressive disorders are easily the most common type of mental health problem experienced, accounting for 40.5 percent of all of the incidences reported. This means that depression alone is responsible for more than 10 percent of the global burden of non-lethal disease.
Next in line in frequency of diagnosis within the mental health/substance abuse group are:
- Drug and Alcohol Addiction (20.5 percent)
- Anxiety Disorders (14.6 percent)
- Schizophrenia (7.4 percent)
- Bipolar Disorder (7.0 percent)
- Pervasive Developmental Disorders (4.2 percent)
- Childhood Behavioral Disorders (3.4 percent)
- Eating Disorders (1.2 percent)
When the statistics for fatal and non-fatal illnesses are combined, mental health and substance use disorders are the fifth leading cause of death or serious disease across the globe. Naturally the incidence of specific mental conditions plus drug and alcohol addiction varies by geographical location, but there is no country or region of the world where common mental health problems and substance use issues are unheard of or insignificant in their levels of occurrence. The incidence of all mental health problems is higher in women and girls than in men and boys, but the inverse is true with respect to substance abuse.
Mental Health – Global Problems And Individual Solutions
While global statistics on mental health troubles and drug and alcohol addiction provide a useful overview of the situation, ultimately each individual nation-state will be forced to deal with the consequences of these conditions largely on its own. And unfortunately, in every single country, mental illness and substance abuse are placing significant financial and personnel burdens on health care systems that are already chronically undermanned and/or underfunded. In the developing world, shortages of trained medical professionals who are capable of providing effective and efficient mental treatment services are a constant problem, while in both developing and developed nation the high cost of treatment and rehabilitation often prevents suffering people from getting the attention and assistance they so desperately need. Complicating the picture further is that mental illness still too often goes undiagnosed, most frequently among the poor, and, in the case of substance abuse, even when individuals do manage to get treatment, the failure rate of this type of rehabilitation is discouragingly high.
In the past, mental illness carried a stigma that tended to prevent suffering people from coming forward and asking for help, or from admitting that they had a problem in the first place. Fortunately this situation has changed and changed dramatically, and that provides great reason for optimism and hope. Financial challenges that restrict the availability of quality mental health care for all are real and pervasive; however, as awareness of the depth of the problem of mental illness and substance abuse continues to spread, government agencies and public health officials in nations all across the planet will have little choice but to acknowledge reality and bring their funding priorities into line with the real needs of their citizens.