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Mental health problems plague Europeans

6th September 2011

Europeans are plagued by mental and neurological illness, with almost 165 million people, or 38% of the population, suffering each year from disorders like depression, anxiety, insomnia or dementia, according to a large new study.

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Economies and societies in Europe are greatly burdened by mental disorders, according to a recent German study.

The researchers found that nearly 40% of all Europeans had mental illnesses, and that only a third of those were ever treated.

The study authors wrote that mental disorders had become Europe's largest health challenge of the 21st century.

For the purposes of the study, researchers grouped mental disorders and neurological conditions in the same bracket.

Lead researcher Hans Ulrich Wittchen, director of the institute of clinical psychology and psychotherapy at Germany's Dresden University, said he believed that the large treatment gap for mental disorders had to be closed.

He said that the only people receiving treatment did so with considerable delays and rarely with the appropriate, state-of-the-art therapies.

For the study, the researchers gathered data that eventually included Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway, as well as the 27 EU member states.

They looked at about 100 mental disorders, including anxiety, depression, addiction, and schizophrenia.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates, clinical depression will be the world's second most burdensome illness, in terms of its toll on the world economy, by the year 2020.

Wittchen said that the conditions affecting the brain, which his study had addressed, were already the largest public health issue in the EU.

Recently, some big drug companies have begun to back away from research on how the brain works and affects behaviour.

This means that governments and health charities are now burdened with the task of funding neuroscience research.

The researchers said they believed it was crucial for policy makers to find ways of identifying possible mental disorders early on in people's lives.

Wittchen said that, since mental disorders frequently began to affect people early in life, they had a powerful negative impact on people's later lives.

He said that targeting young people for treatment would help reduce the growing numbers of people who had mental illnesses.

David Nutt, a neuropsychopharmacology expert at Imperial College, London, who did not take part in the recent study, said he believed society as a whole needed to invest more in changing the trajectory of disabling illnesses.

 

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