Luis Gallardo

Taking on Mental Illness Is Fiscally Sound and Morally Necessary

Luis Gallardo
Taking on Mental Illness Is Fiscally Sound and Morally Necessary

The bad news is that mental illness is one of the main causes of unhappiness in the world producing nearly as much of the world's misery as poverty. Treating it should be a top priority for every government. Such illness is a major stumbling block for the world economy as well.

Richard Layard, the Founder-Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics, says that the good news is that effectively treating it would save billions.

Mental illness reduces national income - per head - by some 5 percent through non-employment, absenteeism, lowered productivity, and additional physical healthcare costs. It accounts for a third of disability worldwide, and it can kill. Those people who suffer from depression or anxiety disorders die on average five years earlier than others.

According to Layard, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 3 is focused on committing governments to promote mental health and well-being; to treat substance abuse; reduce suicide, and to achieve universal health coverage including that to moderate mental health issues. There are exceptionally effective treatments available for the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, and those treatments yield solid inexpensive recovery rates.

The savings in restored employment and productivity far outweigh the costs, and that means this modest investment has a negative net cost to society. The gross cost of the proposed expansion of such policies is just 0.1% of GDP in 2030 – and that represents a tiny expenditure to bring a massive benefit.

But making the changes requires two new priorities for governments. First; to ensure that people with mental illness get treated. Second; to use all possible avenues, schools chief among them, to help people develop the skills that buffer against mental illness.

Increased happiness reduces mortality; it's that simple. Effective treatments exist, and these commitments make sense because we now have effective treatments for common mental illnesses. Most of these treatments have success rates of 50% or more, and psychological treatments not only removing negative thoughts, but they cultivate positive attitudes and activities.

It's one thing to decide on expansion and to allocate the funds, but the heavy lifting comes in making change happen on the ground. That involves specific decisions about the treatments to be offered, training people to deliver them and providing or identifying the services where the treatments are to be offered.

By reducing the stigma associated with mental illness, campaigns have produced significant results. The best of them involve celebrities who have come to speak out about their mental health problems such as Prince Harry.

While change can begin at any level, it's governments who have a special responsibility, and if they insist that mental health becomes a central policy area, nations will find that mental illnesses are treatable, preventable and repairing them can ease trauma caused by conflict and violence.

And one heartening effect is that such policies will involve no net cost increases.

If governments care about the happiness of their people, and they must, the attack on mental illness as a top policy priority will make us all happier...and wealthier.