In the past I have talked about the billions of dollars our economy loses each year because of direct and indirect costs associated with mental illness.
Estimated in Canada at more than $33 billion each year, it is certainly a huge financial burden on the country – not to mention the even bigger personal burden it is for the many Canadians and their families dealing with illness every day.
Of course direct costs include health care costs for doctors, nurses, hospitalizations and medication, but some other costs associated with mental illness can include social assistance and disability costs, subsidized housing and other social services used by those suffering with psychiatric illness. Indirect costs can come from many sources as well.
A survey in the US uncovered a little more about the types of costs incurred by individuals with mental illness. Aside from the obvious direct costs to the health care system, this survey focused on cost due to lost earnings.
With data from approximately 5,000 Americans, the survey estimated loss of earnings by comparing income over the previous year between those with and without serious psychiatric disorders.
On average, those with serious mental illness earned $16,306 less than those without a mental illness. Also, this loss of income was not mainly a function of chronic unemployment as 75 per cent of the total reduction came from people who did have some earnings in the previous year.
Across the American population, this means mental illness is associated with an annual earnings loss of more than $193 billion – much larger than previous estimates.
Even though the number is large, researchers associated with this study believe it is quite conservative. Since this was a door-to-door survey, it did not include homeless people or those hospitalized or in the prison system – which are very common conditions for those with serious mental illness.
Consider that almost a quarter of people in jails have been diagnosed with mental illness and approximately one third of homelessness is associated with serious mental illness. These as well as individuals who are hospitalized or institutionalized, have no earnings and would drive numbers much higher.
This survey also had very few subjects with schizophrenia or autism so these disorders were not included in the original analysis – even though both are associated with chronic disability and loss of income.
Also missing from this survey is loss of income to family members who very often bear much of the financial and emotional burden of the mental illness of a loved one.
Still, when researchers added up direct and indirect costs of mental illness in the US even with some obvious holes – they came up with an annual cost of $317 billion. This is equivalent to more than $1,000 each year for every man, woman and child in the US.
Although our numbers are somewhat different in Canada due to our smaller population and of course differences in our social and health care systems, it is safe to say that the areas of cost are likely very similar and the burden of mental illness is probably larger than we estimate.
Here is just one more reminder that we need to place priority on effectively treating mental illness and ensuring everyone has access to necessary services so they can reach their full potential in life and keep the ever-increasing costs as low as possible.
With a proper focus and government priority, we can battle the physical, emotional and financial burden of mental illness.