Impact of Mental Illness Greater Than Cancer, Infectious Diseases: Report

Heather Loney, Global News : Wednesday, October 10, 2012

TORONTO – A groundbreaking new report sheds light on the immense burden of mental illnesses and addictions, conditions which are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed or ignored.

The overall impact of mental illnesses and addictions is greater than cancer and all infectious diseases, according to a report from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Public Health Ontario (PHO).

Opening Eyes, Opening Minds: The Ontario Burden of Mental Illness and Addictions Report states decision-makers and members of the health care system can no longer afford to bear the burden of mental illness.

The overall burden of selected mental illnesses and addictions was found to be 1.5 times greater than all cancers and seven times greater than all infectious diseases.

The report stated that treatment for mental illnesses and addictions are often underused, and awareness of conditions and preventative measures are often lacking, even within the health care community.

Depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol use disorders, social phobia and schizophrenia were listed as the five conditions with the highest burden.

Depression accounted for a third of the total burden and alcohol use disorders accounted for 88 per cent of all deaths attributed to addictions.

The report indicated the conditions studied only represent a fraction of the overall burden, as researchers weren’t able to include all mental illnesses and addictions. Suicides were not incorporated in their findings.

The researchers said that early detection and intervention are critical, and they hope the report will provide policy-makers with evidence to support increased awareness, treatments and preventative measures.

“It’s important to remember that these conditions are treatable,” said Dr. Paul Kurdyak co-author, ICES scientist and chief, division of general and health systems psychiatry at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

“If we increase the likelihood that people seek and get timely access to treatments, the burden for individuals and the entire population will be reduced,” said Kurdyak.

The report stated that the high burden is due to three factors: early onset of mental illnesses, prolonged durations of the conditions, and the conditions’ relatively high prevalence.

The early onset of conditions generally coincides with major life transitions, such as changing schools, entering the workforce, or a change in marital status.

“This report tells us that mental health and public health practitioners, policy-makers and researchers need to work together to identify and enhance health promotion and intervention strategies for the population at large, while improving access to treatment for those suffering from mental illness and addictions,” said Dr. Vivek Goel, president and CEO of PHO.

The report was supported by CAMH and McMaster University.

For more information on mental health issues, including resources for those seeking help, visit the Partners for Mental Health resource centre or the CAMH website.

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