Mental Disorder, Substance Abuse Cases Cost $185 Billion Annually / Treatment Alternatives Exist in Many Different Areas

Article excerpt

As one candidate for public office after the other is undermined by disclosures of family disorders, drug abuse, alcoholism, similar horrors, the questions are propelled to the forefront: How pervasive are these illnesses in our country? Are they commonplace? Extraordinary?

Answer: They are frightening in extent; in their economic consequences comparable to cancer and heart disease.

- As many as 30 to 45 million Americans' lives are disrupted by mental disorders and substance abuse at an annual cost conservatively estimated at $185 billion.

- Between 15 and 22.5 percent of the U.S. population suffers from some form of mental or addictive disorder, with a direct cost of $20 billion for health care alone.

- More than 10 million adults and 3 million children abuse alcohol, with another 30 to 40 million affected because of family ties with an alcoholic or because a relative or friend was killed or injured by an intoxicated driver.

But finally ``there are now a lot of treatment alternatives for the afflicted - or those caring for them - who don't know where to turn,'' said Dr. Herbert Meltzer, professor of psychiatry at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. The safest bet may be to start with a university medical center.

Federal support for research on health-related behaviors has decreased markedly over the past 20 years. (Last year, Congress added $20 million for research in mental illness, but this did not fully offset the shortfall created over the last two decades.)

Indications that someone might need treatment for depression, Meltzer reported, include feeling severely depressed or suicidal, loss of appetite, inability to sleep, loss of interest in sex, and loss of the ability to function at work. Should one or more of these symptoms occur, he added, ``Medication is often necessary to facilitate psychotherapy. For many disorders, especially schizophrenia, mania and severe depression, psychotherapy will usually be ineffective and may or may not enhance medication.

``Prescribed medications are effective in 80 to 90 percent of depression cases and two-thirds of those involving schizophrenia. Such drugs may have side effects, but they generally are tolerable. Also, we are close to developing new drugs which lack those serious side effects. …