World Health Day: Recognizing and discussing mental health

April 7th was World Health Day. The theme of this year's event was mental health, specifically depression. Given that I've talked about mental health before and place a tremendous emphasis on the importance of how we think, what we think, and conquering our minds before we can ever make significant improvement in our lives, I thought it was only right that I would bring this day to your attention and hopefully spark further discussion about it.

So this post is not a regular post. I will share some excerpts from an intriguing article from The Economist about mental health and its associated costs (link here).


Money, money, money

Put together, mental illnesses account for more suffering and premature death in rich countries than heart disease and strokes, or than cancer. One study estimates that depression is 50% more disabling than angina, asthma or arthritis, as measured by a health score that combines factors such as reduced mobility and pain.
— Mental Health: Out of the shadows (The Economist)

Such a finding alone is as remarkable as it is worrying. Physical ailments can (mostly) be seen with the human eye. Mental illnesses? One of the most dangerously unseen terrors in the world.

Estimates from several rich countries put the economic cost of mental illness at 3-4% of GDP.
— Mental Health: Out of the shadows (The Economist)

Three to four percent of GDP. Heck, doesn't sound like much, right? I only wish it were so. Data from the World Bank estimates that the GDP of a few rich countries in 2015 was as follows: USA ($18 trillion), China ($11 trillion), Germany ($3 trillion), the UK ($2 trillion), and Canada ($1 trillion). Taking four percent of those estimates and we're talking about stratospheric figures ranging from $40 billion to $720 billion in costs to society for mental illness.

It's mind-boggling to me that so much freakin' money is being spent on such an important problem, yet so few of us talk about it. But it's not "embarrassing" or stigmatized to talk about hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, right? It's the height of insanity and societal hypocrisy, really, which is why I think it's so important to spread the word about this and continue to break the barriers that prevent discussion about it. Treatment is fantastic, but we can all do so much better to prevent the worst consequences of mental illness if we spread awareness about it.

Note: this "economic cost" that the article talks about includes cost of treatment, lost productivity to society from not being able to work, and payments of disability benefits.


The issue grows more troubling the deeper you look into it:

In 44 [American] states the biggest mental-health institution is a prison, and police spend much of their time dealing with the effects of untreated mental illness... Across Europe, 40-70% of prison inmates are mentally ill.
— Mental Health: Out of the shadows (The Economist)

The line between evil criminals and mentally ill becomes terribly fine and society bears the cost for this. It does make you rethink how to deal with crime in general, both in terms of prevention and in dealing with it afterwards, doesn't it?


Finally, the problem is most difficult to handle with image-conscious youngsters. They fear social ostracization, which is probably the most damaging and debilitating thing a young person can go through, due to their mental conditions. It's worse for men because they are not raised to talk about such emotional topics at all (as discussed in a previous post) and are consequently completely alone in the matter. Thus, both young men and women will bottle it up and never talk about it until it grows to unsustainable and potentially catastrophic levels.

Half of adults with long-term mental conditions suffered their first symptoms before turning 14.
— Mental Health: Out of the shadows (The Economist)

My goal with this is no more and no less than to raise awareness about this issue and strongly urge you to talk about this with people you know. Ask yourself one question: what can you do to help battle this problem? Do your part, Space Cowboy.

Credits and further resources

Thank you to The Economist for the wonderful article. All statistics were taken from the mentioned article, the link to which can be found here. Also, I would recommend the podcast "The Hilarious World of Depression" which, despite the slightly satirical name, is an incredibly insightful take on mental health and depression from the experiences of comedians. Interestingly, it seems like comedians struggle with these problems more than "normal" people do...

See you, Space Cowboy. You're gonna carry that weight.