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Mental illness contributes significantly to global disease burden

SEPTEMBER 04, 2007

Professor Martin Prince and colleagues from the Centre for Public Mental Health, IoP at King's, and his colleagues from the Lancet's Global Mental Health initiative have published an international research review today that shows an estimated 14 per cent of global disease burden is due to neuropsychiatric disorders (NPDs) – the most significant contributors amongst all non-communicable diseases – more than heart disease, stroke and cancer.

In the first of a series of six reviews looking specifically at Global Mental Health, published today by The Lancet, Prince's review is entitled ‘No Health without Mental Health’ and points out that the true economic and social burden of these disorders has most probably been underestimated because of the inadequate appreciation of the connection between mental illness and other health conditions. NPDs are particularly significant because of the chronically disabling nature of depression, alcohol- and substance-use disorders, and psychoses.

Importantly, Prince and his colleagues provide evidence that mental illnesses increase the risk of developing many physical illnesses. They are also common accompaniments of other non-communicable (NCDs) and communicable diseases; they complicate their treatment, and are typically associated with worse outcomes, including increased mortality.

Professor Martin Prince comments, "More research is needed into these links particularly on the potential for mental health interventions to improve physical health outcomes. Relatively little of this type of research has been carried out in low and middle income countries, where 80% of all deaths from NCDs and 99% of all deaths from HIV/AIDS occur, and where mental healthcare budgets are tiny with respect to the burden that mental illness clearly represents."

The links between mental health and heart problems, HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria, maternal and child health and accidents and injuries are all explored in depth by Prince and colleagues who conclude that, "Mental health awareness needs to be integrated into all elements of health and social policy, health-system planning, and health-care delivery if this burden is to be realistically addressed."

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