Serious mental health conditions such as major depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis are grave and disabling illnesses. They take a huge toll on the sufferers and thanks to the widespread stigma associated with them, many do not receive the help and support they require.
Despite the established knowledge of how common these conditions are, there are still arguments against early interventions based on cost-effectiveness claims. Now, a team of researchers led by Associate Professor Seth Seabury from the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, has used models to work out the financial impact of serious mental illness (SMI).
As reported in the journal Health Affairs, for a person in the US diagnosed with SMI at the age of 25, the lifetime cost will be around $1.85 million. This is similar to the economic burden of diabetes and cancer, with the added fact that the median age of diagnosis for SMI is much lower, between 15 and 30. This leads to long-lasting and widespread effects such as reduced educational attainment and consequently lower earnings.
In the study, the team found that intervention in supporting and improving the educational attainment of people with SMI can at least mitigate some of these exorbitant costs by curbing the loss of earnings. Over a lifetime, people with SMI earn half of what healthy people do.
But it is not just a lack of income. The researchers also point out that in their simulation, having SMI reduced a person's life expectancy by more than 10 years. It also halved the number of disability-free years from 42.3 to 20.6. Years spent in full-time employment were also reduced by more than half. While not specific to these parameters, greater educational support for people with SMI was found to increase life expectancy, disability-free years, and years in full-time employment in the researchers' simulations.
The study shows that just modest support of the educational efforts of people with SMI has lifelong benefits. The researchers estimate that this intervention reduces the economic burden of SMI by about 4 percent, or roughly $73,600. Clearly, a lot more is needed to support people with SMI and allow them to live a full and happy life.