• The burden of mental illness in the United States

    homelessFrom today’s NEJM, a report from Christopher Murray and colleagues summarizing the disability and loss of life attributable to diseases across the world.

    Murray and colleagues have a table summarizing these data for the United States in 2010. There is a widespread but mistaken belief that mental illness affects your happiness, but it isn’t really about health.

    That’s a mistake. Murray and his colleagues added up all the time that Americans were disabled in 2010, by disorder. Major depressive disorder was the second leading cause of disability-years in America. Anxiety disorders were fifth and drug-use disorders were seventh.

    The authors do not discuss major depressive disorder as a cause of death. That’s a bit misleading, because mental illness in general and MDD in particular is the leading cause of suicide. Suicide was the sixteenth leading cause of death and the sixth in the total years of life lost.

    I’ve said it before:

    Mental illness isn’t just about happiness. Mental illness kills.


    • Yes. And it kills not only because of social deterioration or cumulative side effects medications we administer, but also because mental illness has high rates of physical changes, e.g., chronic inflammation. Take home message: mental illnesses are important physical diseases with psychological, behavioral, and social consequences, not weaknesses of character. Thanks for a great post that eloquently makes this point.

    • Between the age of 1 year and 25 years of life, suicide and homicide cause 25% of their deaths. Combined, they represent the most common cause of death in this age group.


      Is the CDC still prohibited by Congess from doing epidemiologic studies of homicide in children?

    • Also worth mentioning: self-harm. 14th in DALYs. Often caused by mental illness.

      Off topic: traffic accidents are also a major cause of lost DALYs. This is why we should support red light cameras and speed traps. This is why we should not text and drive. This is why we need law enforcement to actually prosecute drivers who harm pedestrians and cyclists.

    • Not to mention the effect on families who are struggling to provide care. I know there are statistics covering caregiver stress, but it seems like it would be magnified where mental illness is involved.