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Telling the story of mental health

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It is unusual for Foreign Affairs, a magazine published by the United States Council on Foreign Relations in New York, to contain articles on health, but the first issue of 2015 carries an essay (Darkness invisible: the hidden global costs of mental illness) by three distinguished scientists from the National Institute of Mental Health about the hidden costs of mental health.1 Based on evidence from a 2010 Harvard University study on the current and future burden of disease,2 they state that “the direct economic effects of mental illness (such as spending on care) and the indirect effects (such as lost productivity) already cost the global economy around $2.5 trillion a year”, an amount projected to rise by 2030 “to around $6 trillion, in constant dollars — more than heart disease and more than cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases combined”.1

The World Health Organization estimated in 2012 that about a quarter of all time lost to disability is due to mental illness, putting it at the top of the league chart.3 Unlike many other chronic illnesses, mental illness frequently strikes the young. Further, of the 800 000 people who commit suicide each year, 75% are in low-income and middle-income countries.4

Extraordinary failure

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