Each year more than one third of EU residents have a mental health disorder

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A group of researchers from Dresden in Germany have recently updated a review they originally published in 2005, which provides 12-month prevalence and disability burden estimates of a broad range of mental and neurological disorders in the European Union (EU).

Their review included studies from all 27 EU member states plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway and they carried out a range of techniques to analyse the data, including systematic reviews, reanalysis of existing data sets, national surveys and consultation with experts. They used DALY (Disability Adjusted Life Years) to measure the burden of disease.

Their findings do not make for happy reading:

  • They estimate that each year 38.2% of people in the EU (164.8 million people) suffer from a mental health problem
  • This prevalence is far higher than the 27.4% recorded in 2005 and this increase is put down to the inclusion of 14 new disorders covering problems in children and older people
  • The most frequent disorders are:
    • Anxiety disorders (14.0%)
    • Insomnia (7.0%)
    • Major depression (6.9%)
    • Somatoform disorders (6.3%)
    • Alcohol and drug dependence (>4%)
    • ADHD in children (5%)
    • Dementia (1-30%, depending on age)
  • Substantial cultural or country variations occurred in substance use disorders and mental retardation, but not in any other conditions
  • Overall, the four most disabling single conditions were:
    • Depression
    • Dementia
    • Alcohol use disorders
    • Stroke

The authors conclude:

The true size and burden of disorders of the brain in the EU was significantly underestimated in the past. Concerted priority action is needed at all levels, including substantially increased funding for basic, clinical and public health research in order to identify better strategies for improved prevention and treatment for disorders of the brain as the core health challenge of the 21st century.


Wittchen HU, Jacobi F, Rehm J, Gustavsson A, Svensson M, Jönsson B, Olesen J, Allgulander C, Alonso J, Faravelli C, Fratiglioni L, Jennum P, Lieb R, Maercker A, van Os J, Preisig M, Salvador-Carulla L, Simon R, Steinhausen HC. The size and burden of mental disorders and other disorders of the brain in Europe 2010. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2011 Sep;21(9):655-79.

Global Burden of Disease. World Health Organization, 2010.

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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