Mental health problems account for 13.1% of Australia’s total burden of illness and disease and it is estimated that they cost the Australian economy up to $20 billion annually. They also plague the economy with related problems such as lost productivity and labour participation.
There can be no better way to save the mental health budget than prevention. Experts at an Australian Rotary Health symposium in Canberra emphasised this strategy aimed at reducing the mental health burden.
Macquarie University has developed a program that focuses on helping parents of children dealing with anxiety. They do so by teaching parents different strategies to dispel and combat anxiety in their children. Professor Ron Rapee, department of psychology at Macquarie University said, “The program has halved the cases of anxiety disorder in some control groups”. He further explained, “Reducing depression in children will help reduce anxiety and depression later in life”.
While expressing his concerns for the toll of mental health problems on Australia’s economy, Professor Rapee said, “We know that anxious and depressed adults have use of medical services, they tend to be more likely on social security, more absent from school and work, less likely to be married, they have low levels of income and also high levels of alcohol abuse and suicide,”
Dr Nicolas Cherbuin from the Australian National University’s Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing pointed out that the direct health costs for dementia were $5 billion per year. He also said that currently there are 300,000 dementia sufferers across the country but it is expected to increase to about one million sufferers in 2050.
He mentioned that if certain risk factors for dementia like depression, lack of exercise and poor diet are reduced to a tenth, the number of dementia cases reported annually could drop by 3.3 percent. “Which by 2020 would save about $1 billion,” he said. Dr Cherbuin also said, “If we reduce the risk factors by about 25 per cent, we probably would achieve an almost ten per cent decrease in new dementia cases annually.”
Dr Nicola Reavley from Melbourne University’s School of Population and Global Health also pointed out that one in five to one in ten employee pose a burden on the workplace environment due to workplace issues. The cost of mental health problems within the confines of a workplace was “becoming a really big issue”, she said.
She further elaborated, “A large part of the cost of mental disorders are around the productivity area, in terms of job loss, and income loss, disability payments, (and) are a hugely costly thing for Australia.”
Prof Rapee offered a solution when saying, “So intervening with anxiety and depression should have a fairly big impact.”
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2007. The burden of disease and injury in Australia, 2003, AIHW, Canberra