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October 2021

Can J Psychiatry. 1998 Oct; 43(8): 801-10.

Psychiatry and the burden of mental illness.

Bland RC.

Department of Psychiatry, University of Alberta, Edmonton.

OBJECTIVE: To examine the morbidity produced by mental disorders, to project changes in morbidity likely to be produced by demographic and economic change, and to review the possible role of psychiatry in the health care system. METHODS: Using prevalence data for psychiatric disorders and population projections, this paper presents the likely changes in morbidity over the next 20 years. A review of social and economic information indicates changes in social attitudes and their effects on mental health. This paper examines the determinants of health and how they are likely to change and explores some possible directions for changes in health care delivery. RESULTS: Psychiatric disorders have been greatly underestimated as a cause of disability but account for 5 of the 10 leading causes of disability and 47.2% of all years lived with a disability (YLD) in developed countries. By 2016, there will be significant changes in the distribution and type of psychiatric disorders seen in the population, with cases of dementia almost doubling. Most of the population growth will be in the older age-groups, who will be well informed and will demand high standards of service. The gap between rich and poor will increase, and the results of childhood poverty and abuse will become more apparent. The disadvantaged, including many mentally ill, will suffer deprivation as disability payments decline, but youth unemployment will improve, possibly reducing crime rates. Forced early retirements will decline. Alternative medicine will make inroads into health care. A crisis in subsidized accommodation for the elderly can be anticipated, which perhaps will lead to reopening institutions that are currently being closed or to developing new forms of care. As the baby boomers pass 50 years of age and begin consuming health care services, governments will revise plans and eligibility for services; users will pay for services more directly. CONCLUSIONS: Psychiatry is very vulnerable to minor changes in health care schemes and will increasingly be called on to show economic arguments to justify its services. Pressure to support a primary care model by changing practice styles, developing new skills, and training practitioners will probably occur. The major growth area likely will be geriatric psychiatry.

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