Around 12 billion working days – or 50 million years of work – will be lost to mental illness each year from now until 2030, according to a new report.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) study found that a failure to treat symptoms of depression and anxiety is costing the global economy $925 billion (£651bn) a year in lost productivity.
The research, published in Lancet Psychiatry, is the first worldwide analysis of the health and economic benefits of investing in the treatment of common mental illnesses.
It concludes that a lack of attention to tackling mental health is leading to “an enormous amount of human misery” and recommends that all countries prioritise investment in mental health services, regardless of their wealth levels. Currently, it claims, governments spend an average of just three per cent of their health budget on this.
The report added that the cost of investing in counselling and antidepressant medications would be $147bn over the next 15 years – boosting labour force participation by five per cent and worth $399bn.
Researchers estimate that every $1 spent on boosting treatment for depression and anxiety leads to a $4 return in improved health and productivity.
Almost ten per cent of the global population – around 740 million people – now suffers with a mental disorder. The report says that the most common mental health illnesses are rising.
The number of people with depression or anxiety has grown by almost half between 1990 and 2013 (from 416 million to 615 million).
The WHO adds that war and humanitarian emergencies add to the impact and urgency of treating mental health issues, and estimates that 20 per cent of people are affected by depression/anxiety during such incidents.
Dr Margaret Chan, director general of the WHO said: “We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too.
“We must now find ways to make sure that access to mental health services becomes a reality for all men, women and children, wherever they live.”
The report comes as economic experts and development agencies gather for the annual IMF spring meeting in Washington DC, which features the improvement of mental healthcare on its agenda.
Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, told the Guardian that urgent action was needed:
“Despite hundreds of millions of people around the world living with mental disorders, mental health has remained in the shadows.
“This is not just a public health issue; it’s a development issue. We need to act now because the lost productivity is something the global economy simply cannot afford.”
This article first appeared on The Telegraph on 13 April 2016.