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Mental illness and addictions costing Ontarians years of life


Mental illness and addictions are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed or ignored by many, including those in the healthcare system. A groundbreaking report from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES) and Public Health Ontario (PHO), Opening Eyes, Opening Minds, quantifies the burden of selected mental illnesses and addictions. The overall burden of mental illness and addictions is more than 1.5 times that of all cancers and more than seven times that of all infectious diseases.

“It is clear that Ontarians suffer a high burden of disease from mental illness and addictions,” said Dr. Vivek Goel, President and CEO, Public Health Ontario. “This report gives decision-makers sound evidence to support what has been the experience of many: Mental illness and addictions carry a heavy burden on our society, one we can no longer afford to bear.”

The report, supported by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) and McMaster University, shows that the high burden is due largely to three factors: the emergence of these conditions early in life, the conditions’ prolonged durations and their relatively high prevalence. The early onset of mental illness and addictions coincides with a time of major life transitions, such as completion of high school, transition to higher education, entry into the workforce, and marriage. The disruption of these transitions exacts a significant personal and social cost to individuals and society as a whole.

“We calculated the burden of selected mental illnesses and addictions in Ontario by looking at their impact on early deaths as well as on the quality of life. In many cases this burden is substantially more than that of other illnesses such as cancers and infectious diseases,” said Sujitha Ratnasingham, lead author and epidemiologist at ICES.

Treatments for individuals suffering from these conditions are often underutilized, and an explicit population focus on mental health promotion, mental illness and substance misuse prevention is often lacking.

“However, there is hope and it’s important to remember that these conditions are treatable. If we increase the likelihood that people seek and get timely access to treatments, the burden for individuals and the entire population will be reduced,” said Dr. Paul Kurdyak, co-author, ICES scientist and Chief, Division of General and Health Systems Psychiatry, at CAMH.

Public health is poised to address mental health and addictions at the population level.

“The public health system strives to prevent chronic diseases, injuries and substance misuse. This report will be an important source of information to assist public health in planning and evaluating these local programs and services,” said Dr. Robert Kyle, Commissioner and Medical Officer of Health, Durham Region Health Department.

“This report tells us that mental health and public health practitioners, policy-makers and researchers need to work together to identify and enhance health promotion and intervention strategies for the population at large, while improving access to treatment for those suffering from mental illness and addictions,” said Dr. Goel.

Notable findings from Opening Eyes, Opening Minds: The Ontario Burden of Mental Illness and Addictions Report include:

  • The overall burden for selected mental illnesses and addictions was more than 1.5 times as much as all cancers and more than seven times as much as all infectious diseases.
  • Five conditions had the highest burden: depression, bipolar disorder, alcohol use disorders, social phobia, and schizophrenia.
  • Depression had the highest overall burden, accounting for a third of the total burden.
  • Alcohol use disorders accounted for 88 per cent of all deaths attributed to mental illness and addictions and 91 per cent of years lost due to early death.
  • In Ontario, new cases of mental illnesses and addictions in an average year led to more than 600,000 future health-adjusted life years lost.

While staggering, this represents only a portion of the burden. The researchers were not able to incorporate suicides, co-morbidities, nor were all mental illnesses and addictions included. Early detection and timely intervention are critical to reduce lifelong burden of disease.

Public Health Ontario is a Crown corporation dedicated to protecting and promoting the health of all Ontarians and reducing inequities in health. As a hub organization, Public Health Ontario links public health practitioners, front-line health workers and researchers to the best scientific intelligence and knowledge from around the world. For more information about Public Health Ontario, visit www.publichealthontario.ca

ICES is an independent, non-profit organization that uses population-based health information to produce knowledge on a broad range of healthcare issues. Our unbiased evidence provides measures of health system performance, a clearer understanding of the shifting healthcare needs of Ontarians, and a stimulus for discussion of practical solutions to optimize scarce resources. ICES knowledge is highly regarded in Canada and abroad, and is widely used by government, hospitals, planners, and practitioners to make decisions about care delivery and to develop policy.



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