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wundayatta's avatar

What does it say about Europeans that psychiatric disorders are now the biggest source of illness?

Asked by wundayatta (58525points) December 19th, 2011

A recent study found that psychiatric disorders are now the biggest source of illness among Europeans. What do you make of this? Is this a sign of some fundamental difference between cultures? Does this suggest that mental illness can be culturally influenced very strongly?

Are the Europeans tanking it? Do Americans or Asians hide mental illness? Is there something about the way we live that changes the rate of mental illness? Is mental illness something you have to be able to afford to have—a function of universal health coverage, perhaps?

In the US, we just passed the mental health parity law that requires insurers to pay for mental health care at the same rate as they pay for physical health care. Is Europe showing the American future in terms of mental illness? Will Americans show more mental illnesses now that more care is covered? If so, does that mean we are inducing an artificial amount of mental illness, or is it a reflection of a hidden reality?

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27 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think it’s due to perception…everyone can be diagnosed with some sort of mental illness!

mazingerz88's avatar

That’s just unfortunate. More and more people are depressed, insomniac and anxious. My feeling is there could be an equal number of Americans or even Asians who have the same conditions as these Europeans but are just not diagnosed.

jazmina88's avatar

Depression , with the economy, has certainly made life a bit harder.
I think in USA, we tend to talk about our feelings more. Maybe not.

PhiNotPi's avatar

In western societies, I have heard that mental illnesses tend to be very over-diagnosed. Even though Europeans have a higher rate of diagnosed mental illness cases, they are most likely not any more “mentally-ill” than any other category of people.

As an example, take depression. Back before the invention of antidepressants and the pharmaceutical advertising campaigns that followed, the rate of depression was very low. What might be called depression today was seen, in Asian cultures for example, as a good thing because it hardens the soul and makes one stronger afterwards. It is strange how this has changed today to be viewed as something wrong with the person. I do not think that anyone can call something a disease if it takes advertising or other people to convince someone that they are sick.

Sometimes, being depressed can show emotional health, for example after a loved one has died. It is expected that one might be depressed because of that, and it would be strange for that person to not be sad.

I also read that city life increases stress and the chance of some mental illnesses. This may give a reason that urban areas tend to have more mental illness, but cannot account for the differences between Europe and other developed areas.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Good post @PhiNotPi. It’s like normal, every day reactions to the negative things in our lives is now viewed as some sort of mental illness. If we aren’t happy all the freaking time then we need some drugs to make us happy.

Judi's avatar

I think it means that medical care is available to properly diagnose and treat these diseases that are often neglected in the US.

woodcutter's avatar

Is it true that being sad because of a bad situation that may be temporary is automatically depression? I’m thinking no. I’m also thinking too many people think yes. It’s gotten to the point if someone even hints to their GP they are bothered about something, they will be on some kind of medication before the end of the day. Docs love anti depressants. Its a one stop shop to fix whatever ails us.

Blackberry's avatar

I don’t know much about mental illness, but my uneducated opinion is that there is some over diagnosing going on. Isn’t it beneficial to drug companies for more people to be “sick” so they can dish out more pills?

downtide's avatar

Based on my experience in the UK, healthcare is freely available for all but only if it’s physical healthcare you’re talking about. Mental health is often overlooked and often goes untreated, as I discovered when trying to find resources to treat depression and was unable to find a therapist that would treat me under the NHS.

PhiNotPi's avatar

@Dutchess_III I agree with you. Sadness and all those other feelings that make it seem like life sucks are meant to be the things that drive us to accomplish things in this world. They drive us to go out into the world and fix whatever is making us not be happy. Of course there is always that point after which it does become mental illness, but in my opinion most people will never cross that point.

@Blackberry Your “uneducated opinion” appears to be correct. In the the same place I read about the Asian cultures that I was talking about, it discussed how drug companies were advertising to make that viewpoint change.

@wundayatta GQ

Blackberry's avatar

@PhiNotPi Yeah, like the apparently new ailment: Shift-Work Disorder.

Aethelflaed's avatar

I don’t know what it tells us. It might tell us that Europeans are generally more unhappy and unstable. Or, it might tell us that the bar is lower for being diagnosed with a mental disorder – but that might also mean that there’s less of a stigma attached to it, that perhaps being diagnosed with (for example) mild bipolar II is more viewed more like having a head-and-chest cold than pneumonia or MRSA; that Europe sees mental disorders as more of a spectrum than a binary than we do. Which then takes away or severely reduces the idea of over-diagnoses – if mental disorders aren’t necessarily so bad, and some are truly dangerous while others are just common elements of life (much like the head-and-chest cold or the harsher 10-day tummy flu), then it doesn’t have to mean so much that Europeans are trying to stigmatize and demonize everything but perhaps rather recognize the various things people struggle with and implement some tools people can use to deal with those struggles. I really don’t know how Europeans differ from Americans in understanding mental health, just that it’s important to not immediately and solely apply an American lens in trying to understand Europe.

PhiNotPi's avatar

I do agree that there is a spectrum. The thing that I am worried about is the medication. Even if Europeans view depression as something minor, the medications for it are designed to mess with how a person’s brain works, something that we barely understand.

Aethelflaed's avatar

@PhiNotPi True, but on the other hand, it might be like, mild depression, take some Omega-3s. Moderate depression, take some Omega-3s and get a bit of short-term therapy. Only at severe depression do you get anti-depressants. So, not necessarily something to worry about, until there’s more info.

Nullo's avatar

Hypochondria, maybe, or bad parameters. Or maybe their debt woes are taking a greater toll than their generally-lighter work week can offset.

zenvelo's avatar

Maybe the health care is sufficient to keep people healthy so their physical health has improved to the point where mental illness exceeds physical ailments?

whitenoise's avatar

According to a publication in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Incidence of Mental Health issues is most in The United States of America, followed by some European countries like mine and lowest in countries like Japan and Nigeria.

Most likely it says more about the quality of medical care and the cultural willingness to diagnose / help people with mental health issues.

Personally, I always pitty the person most that has a healthy body and a good life, but not the mental capacity to be anything but unhappy.

bob_'s avatar

Shit’s crazy in Europe.

whitenoise's avatar


I agree that you should worry about the medication, psychotherapy might be a better solution.

Just to help guide this discussion a bit:

Consumption of antipdepressants in Europe is the highest in France at 5%.

In the US 11% of adults use antidepressants. (page 19)

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe it means Europeans have very good health care and prevention for physical health, and so now mental health is overtaking the rate of physical disorders. It does not mean Eurpeans have higher rates of mental illness than the US.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Seems like the more access to fixes we have, the more that stuff gets “broken.”

wundayatta's avatar

@Dutchess_III I do worry about that. Is this a situation where if you have a hammer, all problems start looking like nails?

Still, does it make sense to think that because we got along without a hammer all these years, doesn’t that mean we still don’t need it? For years and years, all we had for mental illness was therapy, for the most part. There were a few drugs and electroshock therapy, but mostly it was talk.

Now there is so much more. Now the drugs are getting more plentiful. They still are hard to know what will work for whom, but now that we have them, are we running around looking for problems they might fix, or are we really uncovering all those problems that we always there, but no one paid attention to because we had nothing to use to fix them with?

My suspicion is that there is a lot more mental illness out there than our new tools are allowing us to find and deal with. That’s because there is so much stigma attached to mental illness. No one wants to admit to it. I know I don’t. No one in real life know about me except my group members and my closest family (wife) and a few friends (few of whom were able to maintain our friendship now that they know).

I look at it in terms of opportunity costs. What is the cost of over-prescription of meds and therapy compared to the cost of lost productivity when someone is not treated who could have been.

I think there is a prejudice that a lot of mental health care—such as talk therapy—is coddling. On the other end, I don’t think people have a clue as to how much is lost when someone is depressed—how not only work productivity is lost, but also the person drags down entire systems of people. If this group were not drawn down, they would do so many different things that would make not just the sick person happier, but a lot of other people as well.

My guess is that the cost of not providing care we can provide but that is needed is far greater that the cost of care we do provide that is not needed. It is not that expensive to provide mental health meds and the benefits are huge because they help much more than the patient.

But there is a large prejudice against mental illness and mental health treatments, so people don’t get what they need because of the stigma. Nations that reduce the stigma should do better, if I’m right. Nations that provide more treatment should also do better. Problem is, there’s no way of knowing what things would have been like if a person had not been sick, because we can’t measure what didn’t happen. All we can do is compare groups of apparently similar characteristics. Even that is difficult to do, since we can’t hold all the other factors steady.

Lightlyseared's avatar

@downtide the NHS spends a significant amount of money on mental health care and there are mental health trusts that provide both inpatient and outpatient mental health services providing counselling sessions, courses on anger managment and dealing with bereavement stress, psychotherapy, family support, addiction clinics, day centres, specialist hospitals for the criminally insane…

Mariah's avatar

I don’t think anybody thinks mental illness is when you’re not happy every moment.

Maybe there isn’t as much of a stigma to admitting something is mentally wrong in Europe as in other places.

Edit: Actually on second thought, the figure doesn’t actually say there’s more mental illness than in other places, does it? It just says mental illness is more common than physical illness in Europe. So, maybe there’s just less physical illness in Europe. I’m sure they have healthier hearts on average than we have across the pond.

Berserker's avatar

I can’t even begin to answer that, but I do think it has to do with the cultures. For example, someone correct me if I’m wrong, but it’s only been a few years since Russia acknowledged depression as something legitimate. I have no idea what the factors are for different places and how they decide things, but personally, I don’t believe that psychiatric disorders are more rampant or less rampant in any specific place. I guess that may depend on the disorder itself, whether it’s something genetic, or at least, something not directly caused by one’s environment. And for the latter, for disorders caused by something, well since humans are adaptable creatures, the levels of magnitude by the cause and what comes of it may vary, (or its perception rather) then again maybe not. It would be interesting to know what every places bases its criteria on, in regards to their societies and cultures.

What does that say about Europeans…what @bob_ said lol.

filmfann's avatar

I am schizotypal. I do nothing to treat it. I live with the issues, and ignore the occasional voices.
I have great medical coverage, but I don’t have this treated because it seems like it’s making more of it than I care to do.
I bet lots of Americans have mental disorders, but either don’t acknowledge them, or ignore the symptoms. It would explain the large number of jerks and assholes I run into.

Nullo's avatar

It may be as simple as the Europans adding things to their lists of psychiatric disorders. I remember the Italians did not recognize ADD while I was there. I switched from medicating to coping while there, since there was no way a doctor was going to prescribe me the usual amphetamines.

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