People Less Willing to Pay for Mental Illnesses than Medical Diseases

In a disturbing report in the April edition of the journal Psychiatric Services, researchers from Stony Brook University School of Medicine show that although Americans view mental illness as more burdensome than medical diseases, they are significantly less likely to pay for mental health treatments.

A representative sample of 710 adults was given a list of five illness—three medical (partial blindness, amputation, and diabetes) and two mental (depression and schizophrenia)—and asked how much they would be willing to spend to avoid each condition. They also had to estimate each condition's severity and its degree of impact on their life.

There was no obvious correlation between perceived burdensomeness and the amount each person was willing to spend to avoid it. Schizophrenia was seen as having the greatest impact of the five, yet did not prompt the same levels of spending as another, medical condition. In general, respondents were willing to pay 40 percent less to prevent a mental condition than a medical one.

The authors of the report say their results are consistent with overall trends in healthcare spending. In industrialized nations, for example, mental illnesses account for 6.2 percent of all healthcare expenditures, despite comprising 15.4 percent of the total burden caused by disease. This attitude will have to be addressed directly if governments and individuals want elevate regard for mental disease to the same level as disease in general.

Source: Stony Brook University School of Medicine

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