Opinion: Silent killer

POSTED: 09/6/11 2:01 PM

With World Alzheimer’s Day just a couple of weeks away, a research by the university of Dresden in Germany shows that every year 38 percent of Europeans – almost four out of every ten – are confronted with a mental disorder – from depression, fear and sleeplessness to dementia. Only one third of these cases get the necessary medical attention. The researchers in Dresden say that mental disorders are the biggest challenge for Europeans in the twenty-first century. Unfortunately, not everything that happens in Europe stays in Europe so there’s a fair chance that these findings apply elsewhere, in the United States and in the Caribbean as well.
Only nine years from now, the German researchers project, depression will rank second on the global list of causes of disability in all age categories. Lead researcher Hans Ulrich Wittchen says that Europe will be a forerunner in this gloomy field because mental disorders are already the largest cause of disability on the continent.
The research took three years to complete and involved 514 million people in thirty
European countries – the 27 European Union member-states plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway. Wittchen looked at about one hundred different mental disorders like fear, depression and schizophrenia, but also at neurological disorders like epilepsy, Parkinson and multiple sclerosis.
People who suffer from a psychological ailment are often home from work for a long time. The economic damage to the European society amounts to hundreds of billions of euros.
The four most common ailments are depression, dementia, alcohol addiction and stroke. A similar survey dating back to 2005 among 301 million
Europeans showed that 27 percent of the participants suffered from a mental or neurological ailment.
The researchers say that it is important to acknowledge the enormous impact of this category of diseases and to start treatment at an early stage. Mental disorders start early in life, according to Wittchen. He claims that early detection and early treatment will prevent that people become disabled later on.
It’s a bit harsh to conclude that Europe is slowly becoming an asylum full of lunatics, but the fact that so many people apparently suffer from mental disorders is disquieting. While the world is putting humongous efforts in the fight against, say, cancer, aids and even the flue, mental disorders now emerge as the silent killer of the economy.
It will be interesting to learn how Wittchen sees the ideal treatment of mental ailments. If the answer is that there are adequate pharmaceuticals on the market to battle these diseases, the German survey immediately becomes suspect as an accomplice of the pharmaceutical industry.
And there is no way that all these disorders require treatment with pharmaceuticals. Actually, most of them could be treated by talking to depressed and addicted people – just to mention two categories.
Unfortunately people have been led to believe that this takes too much time, that time is money and that it is therefore much more practical to shove a pill down people’s throats.
The economic impact of mental disorders on the economy is potentially enormous, so our decision makers may as well start looking past World Alzheimer’s Day and consider a plan of approach to tackle this silent killer.

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