Even unemployment, poverty or the death of your spouse have smaller effects on life-satisfaction than mental health, despite this, even in rich countries under a third of people with diagnosable mental illness are in treatment. That comes from this paper, linked to by Chris on twitter.
This paper is a contribution to the second World Happiness Report. It makes five main points:
1. Mental health is the biggest single predictor of life-satisfaction. This is so in the UK, Germany and Australia even if mental health is included with a six-year lag. It explains more of the variance of life-satisfaction in the population of a country than physical health does, and much more than unemployment and income do. Income explains 1% of the variance of life-satisfaction or less.
2. Much the most common forms of mental illness are depression and anxiety disorders. Rigorously defined, these affect about 10% of all the world’s population – and prevalence is similar in rich and poor countries.
3. Depression and anxiety are more common during working age than in later life. They account for a high proportion of disability and impose major economic costs and financial losses to governments worldwide.
4. Yet even in rich countries, under a third of people with diagnosable mental illness are in treatment.
5. Cost-effective treatments exist, with recovery rates of 50% or more. In rich countries treatment is likely to have no net cost to the Exchequer due to savings on welfare benefits and lost taxes. But even in poor countries a reasonable level of coverage could be obtained at a cost of under $2 per head of population per year.
I’ve had to revise my priors because of this. I already thought mental health was big deal, having suffered with anxiety when I was younger, and various family members and friends and partners suffering, but I had no idea of the scale of it. Which sounds sadly naive written down like that.
There should be a lot more investment in mental health as it would be self financing. Instead people are finding it ever harder to pass the assessment process for the usual ATOS, DWP and Treasury related reasons. I’m going to have to look into this in more detail before I can write anything that’s interesting, useful and not derivative. (Yes, I do actually at least try to do all those things here).