Background Mental disorders impose a multi-billion dollar burden on the economy each year; translating the burden into economic terms is important to facilitate formulating policies about the use of resources.
Method For direct costs, data were obtained from national household interview and provider surveys; for morbidity costs, a timing model was used that measures the lifetime effect on current income of individuals with mental disorders, taking into account the timing of onset and the duration of these disorders, based on regression analysis of Epidemiologic Catchment Area study data.
Results The total economic costs of mental disorders amounted to US$ 147.8 billion in 1990. Anxiety disorders are the most costly, amounting to $46.6 billion, or 31.5% of the total; schizophrenic disorders accounted for $32.5 billion, affective disorders for $30.4 billion, and other mental disorders for $38.4 billion.
Conclusions Mental illnesses, especially anxiety disorders, are costly to society. Although anxiety disorders have a higher prevalence than affective disorders and schizophrenia, use of medical care services is lowest for anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders appear to be under-recognised and untreated even though treatment interventions have been shown to be effective and can be delivered in a cost-efficient manner.