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Economic burder of mental illness

01 Apr 2019 / Wellbeing Print

The economic burden of mental illness

It may seem counter-intuitive to link mental health to money and profits in a column concerning wellbeing, but it is difficult to separate the dancer from the dance.

When we think of disability at work, we may focus on back problems or accessibility issues. Similarly, if someone mentions ‘disease’, we often think of physiological conditions.

So you might be surprised to learn that the Global Burden of Disease Study, a comprehensive and ongoing global research program assessing the impact of disease, found that mental, neurological and substance-use conditions are the leading causes of disability globally, with mental health issues accounting for the largest proportion of years lost to ‘healthy’ living.

Depression is the most disabling and prevalent mental illness, and the research confirms that mental illness is now the major health challenge of this century.


Let’s take a look at some statistics: 27% of adults in the EU experience a period of mental illness during their lives.

That’s more than a quarter of the people around you struggling with their mental wellness at some point; the most frequently occurring conditions being anxiety, depression, and substance-use disorders.

Yet only a quarter of that 27% receive any professional help – mostly after years of living with distressing symptoms.

The World Economic Forum suggests that mental ill-health will account for a global loss of over US$16 trillion between 2010 and 2030, with 65% of that burden being carried by high-income countries like Ireland.

That’s a huge burden, and it trickles down to every employing organisation, including yours.

The impact of mental ill-health is measured by (a) how it relates to the individual and to society and (b) the burden it creates.

Both of these measures are important when considering the supports required to alleviate the psychological burden for the individual and the psychological and economic burden on your organisation.


It may be time to consider what your organisation can do to support people in respect of what are often silent and damaging experiences, hidden due to fear and stigma.

When we think about one-in-four people experiencing mental ill-health, it seems clear that this is an issue that needs every employer’s attention.

Communication, space to talk, and education are good starting points.

And remember, if it is good for the individual, it will likely be good for the organisation!

Paul Hughes
Paul Hughes is a practising psychotherapist