LONDON, (Reuters) – Europeans are plagued by mental and neurological illnesses, with almost 165 million people or 38 percent of the population suffering each year from a brain disorder such as depression, anxiety, insomnia or dementia, according to a large new study.
With only about a third of cases receiving the therapy or medication needed, mental illnesses cause a huge economic and social burden — measured in the hundreds of billions of euros — as sufferers become too unwell to work and personal relationships break down.
“Mental disorders have become Europe’s largest health challenge of the 21st century,” the study’s authors said.
At the same time, some big drug companies are backing away from investment in research on how the brain works and affects behaviour, putting the onus on governments and health charities to stump up funding for neuroscience.
“The immense treatment gap … for mental disorders has to be closed,” said Hans Ulrich Wittchen, director of the institute of clinical psychology and psychotherapy at Germany’s Dresden University and the lead investigator on the European study.
“Those few receiving treatment do so with considerable delays of an average of several years and rarely with the appropriate, state-of-the-art therapies.”
Wittchen led a three-year study covering 30 European countries — the 27 European Union member states plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway — and a population of 514 million people.
A direct comparison of the prevalence of mental illnesses in other parts of the world was not available because different studies adopt varying parameters.