Latimer: Financial funding for health care’s orphan

Britain's health systems are in danger of being overwhelmed by the costs of mental illness if research investment is not boosted soon.

I n more than one previous column I have talked about mental health as the ‘orphan of health care.’

Due to stigma, lack of awareness and lack of public outcry, this area of medicine is often left in the shadows in terms of facilities, resources and attention.

A new study published out of Britain notes that health systems are in danger of being overwhelmed by the costs of mental illness if research investment is not boosted soon.

Mental illness, including dementia, depression, anxiety and addiction, affect roughly a third of adults in a given year and that number is on the rise due to our aging population.

According to a Cambridge University researcher and president of the British Association of Psychopharmacolgy, no group of chronic illnesses costs the world more than brain disorders.

This study showed that in 2010 there were 45 million diagnoses of brain disorders in Britain. Of those, more than eight million were anxiety disorders and four million were mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder.

It also showed that annually, the five most costly diseases in Britain were dementia, psychotic disorders, mood disorders, addiction and anxiety disorders.

In spite of its incredible cost and wide-reaching effects, mental illness does not attract the same kind of attention or funding as other high profile diseases.

We cannot afford to leave all the mental health research up to the pharmaceutical companies. As businesses, they follow profits. If an area is not sufficiently lucrative, they will shift their focus elsewhere.

Government research funds and charity foundations should be doling out money in accordance with the burden a particular disease or group of diseases puts on the population.

In the case of mental illness, it receives a fraction of the funding as other high profile diseases such as cancer or heart disease, yet it has just as great an impact on our society. This has to change if we are going to move forward.

Although I am hopeful that awareness surrounding mental illness is slowly getting better, we need to do more now to encourage our policies and activism to catch on to the true scope of mental illness. When we do this, we will have a better hope of making real progress in finding new, effective treatments and preventive tools for these conditions.

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