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Current Year Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Public Health Strategies Needed to Address Large Burden of Mental Illness

September 11, 2013 –The burden of mental illness is a major issue in Ontario and across the globe, according to two recently published studies co-authored by researchers at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).

In a new study published in The Lancet, researchers found that, globally, the burden of mental and substance use disorders increased by approximately 38 per cent between 1990 and 2010.  After reviewing data collected for both sexes, from over 20 age groups in 187 countries, the researchers estimated that mental and substance use disorders were the leading cause of disability world-wide, accounting for approximately

183.9 million disability-adjusted life years.  These disorders accounted for 8.6 million years of life lost.

“Our findings show the striking and growing challenge that these disorders pose for health systems in developed and developing regions,” the study co-authors write.  The research team included Dr. Jürgen Rehm, Director of Social and Epidemiological Research Department at CAMH.

Another study, appearing today in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, shows that mental illnesses and addictions are more burdensome for Ontarians than the four most common cancers combined — or for all infectious diseases combined.

Dr. Paul Kurdyak, a scientist at CAMH and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), and co-authors calculated the burden of illness — a measure combining years of life lost due to early death and years lived with illness-related disability— attributable to mental illness and addictions. Using a variety of sources, the authors retrieved data for nine mental illnesses and addictions and found that depression, bipolar affective disorder, alcohol use disorders, social phobia, and schizophrenia had the highest burden. Results were drawn from the Opening Eyes, Opening Minds report(PDF).

The research team found that the large burden of mental illness and addictions is likely due to a large population living with these illnesses from a young age.

“This persistent finding is troubling because we know effective treatments exist, but it seems only a minority of people get the treatment they need,” says Dr. Kurdyak. “In fact, because we only focused on nine mental illnesses and addictions, we’re likely underestimating the actual burden.”

“Applying strategies to better align resources to address burden may be a way to enhance mental health and addiction system performance,” he adds.

Media contact: Anita Dubey, Manager, Research Communications, CAMH, (416) 535-8501 ext. 4932 or

Dr. Paul Kurdiak
CAMH Switchboard 416-535-8501
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