New WHO-led study encourages spending on mental health (The Lancet Psychiatry, 12 April 2016)

A new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry suggests that investing in treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a four-fold return- every US$ 1 invested in scaling up treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a return of US$ 4 in better health and ability to work.

Background Information:

Absenteeism: The act of being absent from work

Presenteeism: Refers to the state of being present at work, but, because of illness or other medical conditions, not fully functioning.

Key Messages:

The prevalence of Depression and Anxiety is increasing

Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50%, from 416 million to 615 million.

Nearly 10% of the world’s population is affected, and mental disorders account for 30% of the global non-fatal disease burden.

Returns on investment in treatment far outweigh the costs

The new study calculated treatment costs and health outcomes in 36 low-, middle- and high-income countries for the 15 years from 2016-2030. These countries account for 80% of the global population.

The estimated costs of scaling up treatment, primarily psychosocial counselling and antidepressant medication, amounted to US$ 147 billion. Yet the returns far outweigh the costs.

A 5% improvement in labour force participation and productivity is valued at US$ 399 billion, and improved health adds another US$ 310 billion in returns. (The investigators calculated a 5% decrease in absenteeism and a similar reduction in presenteeism. This translates to improved productivity. The investigators report a gain of close to 1 work day per month.)

Cost estimates (2016-2030)

For all 36 countries, the total cost amounts to US$91 billion for depression and $56 billion for anxiety disorders.

Treatment of mild cases accounts for less than 10% of total costs for depression and 20% for anxiety disorders.

After standardising for population size, the cost is actually quite low; for depression treatment, the average annual cost during 15 years of scaled-up investment is

  • $0·08 per person in low-income countries,
  • $0·34 in lower middle-income countries,
  • $1·12 in upper middle-income countries and
  • $3·89 in high-income countries. 

Per person costs for anxiety disorders are nearly half that of depression.


To reduce the stigma associated with mental illnesses

To increase public spending on mental health

Useful Links:

Link to the WHO news release regarding the article:

Link to WHO page with links to fact sheets related to mental health (several updated on 12 April, 2016):

Link to article in The Lancet Psychiatry (Open Access) [PDF]:

Click to access PIIS2215-0366(16)30024-4.pdf

Link to related Comment in The Lancet Psychiatry (Open Access) [PDF]:

Click to access PIIS2215-0366(16)30031-1.pdf

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