Mental Illnesses Common, Under-Treated Worldwide, Study Finds
Mental illnesses are "common and under-treated" in many countries, with the highest rate found in the United States, according to a study in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association, the AP/Las Vegas Sun reports (Tanner, AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/1). In the study, researchers from the World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School, led by Ronald Kessler, a professor of health care policy at Harvard, interviewed 60,643 adults from 14 countries to assess them for a range of mental illnesses, including obsessive-compulsive and panic disorders, bulimia, major depression, bipolar disorder, agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and alcohol and drug abuse. Researchers defined eight countries as rich: the United States, Germany, Belgium, Italy, France, Spain, Japan and the Netherlands. Six countries were considered poor: Mexico, Colombia, Nigeria, Ukraine, China and Lebanon. The study found that in poor countries, about 80% of serious cases of mental illnesses were untreated and in richer countries, between 35% and 50% of cases had not been treated in the last year (McNeil, New York Times, 6/2). Researchers said that in all 14 countries, "a substantial proportion of people with less severe cases received treatment, suggesting a 'misallocation of treatment resources,'" the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/1). According to the study, between 1% and 5% of the populations of many countries that were surveyed were found to have serious mental illnesses and between 9% and 17% had "some episode of mental illness in the last year," the Times reports (New York Times, 6/2). The United States had the highest rate of people with mental illnesses at 26.4%, while Nigeria had the lowest rate at 4.7%. The most common disorders found everywhere except Ukraine were anxiety disorders, including panic attacks, phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder. Kessler said that mood disorders such as depression were most common in Ukraine, the AP/Sun reports (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 6/1). Kessler also said that the methodology for the study should be refined to address some unexplained disparities. Kessler added that societal variations in disclosing mental illnesses and language barriers may have produced lower rates of mental illness in some countries (New York Times, 6/2). The study is available online. NPR's "All Things Considered" on Tuesday reported on the study. The segment includes comments from Kessler and Dr. Bedirhan Ustin, a psychiatric epidemiologist with WHO and a study author (Silberner, "All Things Considered," NPR, 6/1). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.