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Mental illness in Europe

Mental health problems affect about 84 million people in the EU, according to the latest estimates from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. That’s more than one in six people facing problems that range from anxiety to depression to drug and alcohol addiction, as well as severe mental illnesses like bipolar or schizophrenic disorders.

Such problems come at a high personal and social cost. Across EU countries, over 84,000 people died due to mental health problems or by suicide in 2015. Add to this people with mental health problems who die prematurely from physical causes, such as untreated chronic diseases. The overall costs related to mental ill-health in the EU-28 are estimated to have exceeded 4% of GDP, or more than €600 billion, in 2015. This includes both direct spending on health systems and social security programmes, and indirect costs related to the likes of lower employment and lower productivity. These are also conservative estimates, as they do not take into account social assistance or work-injury benefits, or the fact that the costs of treating a physical illness tend to be higher if the patient also has a mental illness. Impacts on carers and co-workers have not been included either.

There is a clear human and economic case for promoting good mental health and preventing mental illness, and several international strategies now address mental health issues, including a 2015 Recommendation of the OECD Council on Integrated Mental Health, Skills and Work Policy.

OECD/EU (2018), Health at a Glance: Europe 2018. State of Health in the EU Cycle, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/ health_glance_eur-2018-en. 

©OECD Observer No 316, Q4 2018