Mental illness affects the wallet as well as the brain

Ann MacDonald

Contributor, Harvard Health

We often report about the psychological toll of mental illness, but while researching a story today I came across a study that documents the economic toll of psychiatric disorders–especially when they are not adequately treated.

Researchers at Harvard collaborated with colleagues at the World Health Organization to survey individuals in 19 countries. They found that people with a serious mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or addiction earned, on average, one-third less per year than other people. The findings held true in high-income countries like the United States as well as in low and middle-income countries like Brazil and India.

You can read the abstract of the study, which appears in the August 2010 issue of the British Journal of Psychiatry.

Depressing? Yes. But studies like this remind me why it’s so important to educate people about treatment options, and to encourage people to seek treatment.


  1. Dr. Marika Zoll

    I think these numbers are high.One third less? I think much much more. I have worked for years in this field. My patients live in a board and care facility for the mentally ill and not one of them, over 100, can hold down a job. And it’s not for not wanting to work. It is just when ones moods are unstable, they are not a desirable employee. I wonder what the stats would show if you followed the employed people, during the time of the study, the ones with a diagnosis, and check a few months down the road. I would challenge that they are soon unemployed “again”. The study missed the phrase “continuous employ”. Sad but true. My work helps this population re identify with using art as the medicine. Also exercise, fun exercise can be life changing. I have a blog that plays with this idea through he use of a collapsible hula hoop. Hence, no excuse to not take it with you on the bus, if you don’t have a car with a trunk. Thanks for making me think about this today. All the best,
    Dr. Marika Zoll
    [URL reoved by moderator]

  2. Cheri H.

    Yes it is important to educate people about treatment options but what if these options aren’t available or they don’t work? Boy do I have a story for you and I am sure you have heard many. My nephew is MR/bipolar,schiz and other diagnoses. A 19 y-o with a 12-13 y-o mind. After kicking his mother in the rear/back very hard for no apparent reason, 2 days later she discovers he has stole a good sum of money out of the house and hitched a ride out of town. He later texted her where he was and would be back over the weekend. She called the sheriff’s office and they more or less told her they didn’t have time for this kind of stuff. She was also in contact with my nephew’s counselor who is also at his wits end, as well as his psychiatrist. Even the Nebraska ombudsman is frustrated with the system and lack of help available. Do you have any suggestions..please?

    • Ann MacDonald
      Ann MacDonald


      Thanks for writing. I’m sorry to hear about the challenges your nephew has faced. Sadly, this is all too common, given how much strain the mental health system is under.

      I have no easy answers, but do suggest you contact a family advocacy organization such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which has chapters in every state.

      As a matter of fact, here is a link I found to NAMI Nebraska.

      Good luck to you and your family,


Commenting has been closed for this post.