Forty-percent of a population is a lot. Imagine a street filled with people—European people. Perhaps they are standing in line waiting for their free health care. Four out of ten of those poor souls suffer debilitating torments of the mind. Grab just five—of any age, toddlers included—and two of them will have brain damage of some kind or another.
That is the conclusion of H.U. Wittchen and more than a dozen co-authors of “The size and burden of mental disorders and other disorders of the brain in Europe 2010,” published in the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology.
The actual percentage of those deranged (in whole or part) is 38.2%, which translates to “164.8 million persons affected.” European persons, that is: plus those in “Switzerland, Iceland and Norway.” That’s a sizable army of the touched.
What’s worse is that the same institution ran the same numbers just six years earlier (2005) and found only 27.4% were three eggs short of a dozen. What a jump! If this alarming trend continues—and why shouldn’t it?—by 2017 half of Europe will be certifiable.
Luckily, much—but not all—of the increase was due to the authors discovering new ways to define “mental illness.” They were able to add “14 new disorders also covering childhood/adolescence as well as the elderly.”
What’s wrong with these folks?
The most frequent disorders are anxiety disorders (14.0%), insomnia (7.0%), major depression (6.9%), somatoform (6.3%), alcohol and drug dependence (> 4%), ADHD (5%) in the young, and dementia (1-30%, depending on age).
Yes, the occasional sleepless night is now a mental disorder. As are “panic disorder,” epilepsy, agoraphobia, “cannabis dependence,” and multiple sclerosis. Because it’s better safe than sorry, toss in “hyperkinetic disorders/ADHD” and “conduct disorder.” Oh, yes, headache, too. All this adds up. Betcha didn’t know that “13% of global disease is due to disorders of the brain, surpassing both cardiovascular diseases and cancer.”
It’s still worse again, because the authors conclude, “In every year over a third of the total EU population suffers from mental disorders. The true size of ‘disorders of the brain’ including neurological disorders is even considerably larger.”
Also, “less than one third of all cases receive any treatment, suggesting a considerable level of unmet needs.” Needs must be met, musn’t they? “Concerted priority action is needed at all levels, including substantially increased funding for…” well, for people like our authors.
Look closer at the 2005 study. This only included folks who were between 18 and 65 “for most diagnoses”, yet that study’s authors were able to conclude that over 1 in 4 were mentally ill. Of all European adults, 1 in 4 needed treatment.
And it wasn’t just 1 in 4, but at any point in time it was 1 in 4. This year you might be sane, a proud member of the untouched 3, but next year it’s tag-you’re-it and fit for the straightjacket. This means the fraction of people who are defined as mentally ill at some point in their lives creeps up to 1, meaning everybody slips a nut at least once, a nut that needs reaming out by a government bureaucracy.
How do the author’s discover that, for example, 2.3% or 10.1 million Europeans were inflicted with social phobia? They made the number up. Yes, but they called it an “expert based best guess.” To form this guess, they looked into what various journals reported on social phobia—a disorder diagnosable without error, I suppose—and saw that papers were reporting incidence rates from between 0.6 to 7.9%. From this range, they guessed 2.3%.
Hold on a moment: somebody out there is reporting that 7.9% of a population suffers from social phobia? Good grief!
Similarly shocking upper ranges were found for alcohol dependence (9.3%), major depression (10.1%), somatoform disorders (panic attacks, etc.; 11%), insomnia (12%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (6.7%). Taken separately, these indicate that Europe is one frightening place.
Except for drunks and druggies and ADHD-like things where the ratio reverses, the authors also concluded that women slip over the edge at nearly twice the rate of men. The biggest differences were in agoraphobia (fear of shopping on the Agora? women?; 3.1 times more women than men), PTSD (3.4 times), and anorexia and bulimia (up to 8 times more).
The authors didn’t track everything that can go wrong with the brain. The lists of disorders “evidently do not reflect the full range of mental disorders that should have been considered.” Thus they can claim.
The high prevalence of neurological disorders provides proof that our 38% estimate is at best a conservative, lower bound estimate for disorders of the brain.
They do not even bother to imply, they directly state, the true rate of mental illness “is almost certainly even considerably larger.”
The only possible solution the authors can imagine is for the government to take money from its citizens and to hand it over to them so that they can study the problem.
Update: See this post, too.