The true cost of mental illness


Sir, – Additional funding for mental health services is very welcome (“A chance to improve”, Editorial , October 15th). The Healthy Ireland Framework advises that mental health problems cost the Irish economy a staggering €11 billion each year.

The true cost of mental illness, however, can only be described in terms of human suffering, reduced quality of life, and stress experienced by families. People also die of mental illness: men with schizophrenia die 15 years earlier, and women 12 years earlier than the general population. The most common causes are heart disease and cancer, worsened by poor access to medical care.

While some of these problems clearly relate to mental illnesses themselves, many relate more closely to the unforgiving social context in which such illness occurs and the persistent stigma wrongly associated with mental illness. As a result, people with mental illness are at increased risk of social exclusion, homelessness and imprisonment, often for minor offences. This is deeply harmful to mental health: prison is toxic for the mentally ill.

But there are reasons to be hopeful. Treatments for mental illness are just as effective as treatments in other areas of clinical care. Suicide rates are stabilising or even falling. In 2011, a total of 554 people died by suicide in Ireland and by 2015 this had fallen to 425, despite population growth.

Of course, even one suicide is one too many. But these figures tell us that positive change is possible and so we should re-double our efforts. Additional funding for mental health services will certainly help with this and needs to be matched by similar initiatives in other areas including social welfare, housing policy, employment law, criminal justice and so forth.

Mental health is a whole of society issue requiring a whole of society response. – Yours, etc,


Professor of Psychiatry,

Trinity College Dublin,

Dublin 2.