The Size and Burden of Mental Disorders and Other Disorders of the Brain in Europe 2010 

A major landmark study released on the 5th September 2011 by the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) sheds new light on the state of Europe’s mental and neurological health. The study finds reveal that mental disorders have become Europe’s largest health challenge in the 21st century. The study also highlights that the majority of mental disorders remain untreated. Taken together with the large and increasing number of ‘disorders of the brain’, the true size and burden is even significantly higher.

This three-year multi-method study, published on the 5th September 2011 in European Neuropsychopharmacology, covers 30 countries (the European Union plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway) and a population of 514 million people. All major mental disorders for children and adolescents (2-17), adults (18-65), and the elderly (65+ years) are included, as well as several neurological disorders. The inclusion of the full spectrum of disorders across all age groups, examined simultaneously in a single study, is unprecedented.

The study’s key findings include:

The study also identified the critical challenges to improved basic and clinical research on mental and neurological disorders in the region. These include:

The study concludes that “Concerted priority action is needed at all levels, including substantially increased funding for basic and clinical as well as 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.”

Principal investigator and joint first author Hans-Ulrich Wittchen says, “To address this challenge, we have to address two high priority issues. 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 simultanously. Both groups of disorders share many common mechanism 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”.

“The low levels of awareness and knowledge about disorders of the brain, their prevalence and burden, are a major obstacle for progress in this direction. Dramatically increased funding of research on the causes and the treatment of disorders of the brain to reach this goal is needed. In addition, a better allocation of treatment resources and improved provision of care are priority topics for the more immediate future.”

This paper was prepared in the framework of the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) and European Brain Council (EBC) Task Force project on the Size and Burden and Cost of Disorders of the Brain in Europe 2010, supported by funds of the ECNP Council, the EBC and Lundbeck.

The size and burden of mental disorders and other disorders of the brain in Europe 2010 paper