“This is a corner piece of the jigsaw puzzle.” An international study published in the…
Mental Health Disorders are Major Illnesses Worldwide
There are many illnesses that cause complications, chronic health care needs, and deaths throughout the world. HIV and AIDS, diabetes, tuberculosis and other chronic and terminal illnesses are big problems in certain parts of the world. What new research is showing, however, is that mental health disorders and substance abuse issues cause more problems, illnesses and deaths, than any other cause. While certain illnesses seem confined to specific parts of the world, mental illnesses and addiction afflict us all, no matter where we live.
The new information regarding worldwide health was published in the journal The Lancet. The data were collected by researchers from the U.S. and Australia. They looked at statistics from 187 different countries and with respect to 20 different mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. They were searching for information about the prevalence of these disorders, premature deaths caused by them, and illnesses that resulted from them. The conclusion was that 23 percent of the burden of disease around the world can be attributed to mental health and addiction.
The researchers also found that the number of deaths attributed to addiction and substance abuse are underreported. The cause of death in cases of overdose or years of addiction is often listed as the actual physical cause of death, rather than the substance abuse. Furthermore, overdoses are sometimes listed as accidental poisonings.
For drug abuse and alcohol dependence, men are at greatest risk of health problems and addiction. However, health problems and deaths from mental illnesses are more common in women. The only countries found to have mental health and addiction issues that were significantly lower than average were Japan, North Korea, China, and Nigeria.
The overall result of the research shows that mental health disorders and substance abuse problems are the major contributing factors to the burden of disease throughout the world. In other words, these health problems make up a significant portion of all possible diseases. The issue is especially pronounced in developing countries.
The researchers also discovered that treatment options are commonly available in many countries. The costs of treatments are not necessarily prohibitive, yet the rates at which people seek treatment are very low in most places. Even in the developed world, treatment is not usually sought until the mental illness or substance abuse has been an issue for some time.
Substance abuse comprises a large portion of the mental health burden in all countries studied. In terms of drug abuse, the biggest across-the-board problem is opioid addiction. This includes drugs like heroin and prescription painkillers. The study found that marijuana is far and away the most commonly used drug in the world, but that it causes few problems or instances of addiction compared to opioids.
In spite of existing available cost-effective treatments and interventions to help people struggling with mental illness or addiction, certain factors prevent it. One is that, in developing countries especially, resources for these issues are scarce. Another problem is that stigma prevents many people from seeking the treatment they so desperately need.
Fixing the Problem
Simply knowing the contribution that mental health and substance abuse disorders make to the global burden of disease is an important first step toward solving the problem. A similar study was last conducted in 1990 and the researchers have discovered that the burden is only rising, especially in the developing world. The problem of stigma attached to these illnesses is difficult to correct, but getting more information about mental health and addiction to the public will slowly begin to change attitudes.
The other aspect of getting people help for mental illnesses and addiction is related to policy. In order for people to get help, treatment needs to be available. Policymakers need to look at the new information available to understand the extent of the problem and how important mental health is to the well-being of a population. When policymakers see the facts of the issue, according to the study authors, they will need to face certain choices. If policies can be put into place to devote funds and human resources to treatment and prevention, a big step will be taken toward reducing the disease burden caused by substance abuse and mental health disorders.