The culmination of a three-year, 30-country study by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) reveals that Europe’s biggest health challenge is mental disorders and other brain disorders. But, researchers say, little has been done in the way of enhancing mental health treatment in Europe, and much more needs to be done if countries want to see any marked improvement.

The study, which was published Monday, found that nearly two in five Europeans suffer from some sort of mental disorder, with a vast majority left untreated. This breaks down to 38.2 percent of the population, or 164.8 million people. Mental disorders are now the largest contributor to Europe’s morbidity burden, the study found, making up 26.6 percent of the total disease burden. The most common disorders suffered by Europeans are anxiety disorders  (14 percent), insomnia with (7 percent), major depression (6.9 percent), somatoform disorders (6.3 percent) and alcohol and drug dependence (slightly less than 4 percent). ADHD was prevalent in 5 percent of the youth studied, while dementia was found in 1 percent of Europeans between the ages of 60 to 65 and 30 percent of those 85 and above.

The study also revealed that no improvements in the treatment rates for mental disorders have taken place since previous data was collected in 2005. These rates, say ECNP researchers, are “notoriously low.” According to a release, only one-third of all cases receive treatment, and even when they do, it is with “considerable delays of an average of several years and rarely with the appropriate, state-of-the-art therapies.”

“To address this challenge, we have to address two high priority issues,” said principal investigator and joint first author Hans-Ulrich Wittchen. “First, the immense treatment gap documented for mental disorders has to be closed. Because mental disorders frequently start early in life, they have a strong malignant impact on later life. We have to acknowledge that only early targeted treatment in the young will effectively prevent the risk of increasingly larger proportions of severely ill, multimorbid patients in the future. Second, we have to take into account the developmental pathways of both mental and neurological disorders simultaneously. Both groups of disorders share many common mechanisms and have reciprocal effects on each other. Only a joint approach of both disciplines, covering the spectrum of disorders of the brain across the lifespan, will lead to an improved understanding of the causes and improved treatments.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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