Despite believing that mental illnesses can be more burdensome than other illnesses, a new study reveals that Americans are less willing to pay to avoid mental illnesses when compared with paying for treatment of medical conditions.

“Our results showed that participants understood that mental illness clearly has a very negative impact on quality of life yet were significantly not as willing to pay for effective treatments for these illnesses,” said lead author Dylan Smith. “The findings mirror the general pattern of health care spending, with less resources going to treat mental illnesses than might be expected given the overall level of burden they impose on society.”

The researchers used an analysis of a nationally representative sample of 710 adult respondents, who were presented with five health conditions, including three medical illnesses or conditions — diabetes, below-the-knee amputation and partial blindness — and two mental illnesses — depression and schizophrenia. The respondents were then asked to rate each condition for “severity and level of burden in relation to quality of life” and indicate how much out-of-pocket they would pay to avoid the condition:

“Respondents generally considered the medical illnesses or conditions as less severe in comparison to the mental illnesses. Yet, when respondents were asked to rate the ‘burdensomeness’ of each condition, schizophrenia received the highest mean burden score, but it did not have the highest willingness-to-pay value. Similarly, despite a relatively high ‘burdensomeness’ rating, depression received the lowest median willingness-to-pay value.”

Said senior author Peter Ubel of the results, “All else equal, the general public doesn’t think it is as valuable to treat mental illness as other types of illness. There is a fundamental disconnect between how bad they think it would be to experience depression and their willingness to spend money to rid themselves of the illness.”

Smith points to current World Health Organization statistics indicating that mental illnesses accounts for 15.4 percent of the total burden caused by all disease in industrialized countries, yet mental illnesses account for only 6.2 percent of U.S. health care expenditures.

According to the authors, the findings suggest that efforts to “eliminate the gap between mental health conditions and general health conditions will likely require targeting specific beliefs that people have about mental illnesses and the value of treatments for mental illness.”

They also mention that “public attitudes influence how much payers for health care are willing to spend to treat mental illness and how likely federal agencies are to invest in research on mental illness.”

Source: Stony Brook University

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

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