The Economic Cost of Depression

Many advocates of mental health care legislation before Congress argue it will reduce gun violence. Other supporters emphasize the need to tackle mental illness as a public health rather than public safety issue. Few proponents bring up one of the best arguments of them all: the need to address the devastating economic impact of mental illness.


A study published in April in The Lancet Psychiatry says that across the 36 largest countries in the world, failure to upgrade treatment for depression and anxiety will lead to nearly $1 trillion in lost economic productivity—more than 12 billion days of lost productivity, equivalent to more than 50 million years of work.

According to the study, led by the World Health Organization, between 1990 and 2013 the number of people suffering from depression and/or anxiety increased by nearly 50 percent. Nearly 10 percent of the world’s population is affected, and mental disorders account for 30 percent of the global non-fatal disease burden.

The authors say that $147 billion in investment is needed over the next 15 years to upgrade treatment for depression and anxiety disorders. The return on the investment, they contend, would be $400 billion in economic productivity gains.

Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO:

“We know that treatment of depression and anxiety makes good sense for health and wellbeing; this new study confirms that it makes sound economic sense too. We must now find ways to make sure that access to mental health services becomes a reality for all men, women and children, wherever they live.”

Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group:

“Despite hundreds of millions of people around the world living with mental disorders, mental health has remained in the shadows. This is not just a public health issue—it’s a development issue. We need to act now because the lost productivity is something the global economy simply cannot afford.”

The Harvard Business School and US News and World Report weighed in with reports on the WHO study here and here.