brainscanThe estimated cost of brain disorders in Britain is £112 billion per year, and more investment in research into mental illness is needed to boost to reduce the burden, neuroscientists have warned.

The study, led by scientists from the University of Cambridge, University of Hertfordshire and Imperial College London, found that in 2010 there were about 45 million diagnoses of brain disorders in Britain. This included 8 million diagnoses of anxiety disorder and nearly 4 million of mood disorders.

Annually, the five most costly disorders in terms of medicines, healthcare and other costs such as absence from work and as loss of productivity were dementia, psychotic disorders, mood disorders, addiction and anxiety disorders.

The cost of dementia on the social care system was significantly higher compared to cancer, coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke. Combining the annual costs of health and social care, dementia cost £10.5 billion, compared to £4.5 billion for cancer, £2.7 billion for stroke and £2.3 billion for CHD. After combining health and social care, informal care and productivity losses, dementia also had the highest annual cost at £23 billion, followed by cancer (£12 billion), CHD (£8 billion) and stroke (£5 billion).

However, despite this, funding for research into mental illness continues to lag behind that spent on other illnesses. For example, £590 million is spent on researching cancer, while only £50 million is spent on dementia.

Change in funding

The neuroscientists and clinicians who led the study are advocating for major change in how medical research funding is allocated, with the focus on distributing funding according to diseases’ economic burden.

The researchers argue that brain disorders involve disproportionally high indirect costs, such as lost production due to work absence or early retirement, and relatively low direct health and social care costs. This means that giving people more effective treatment could considerably reduce the overall economic burden to society and improve patient quality of life, over and above any reductions in healthcare costs. They believe this is a clear argument for investing in research that leads to a better understanding of how to most effectively prevent, diagnose, treat and manage brain diseases.

Professor Barbara Sahakian, one of the lead researchers from the University of Cambridge and President of the British Association for Psychopharmacology, said: “Given the ageing population, the prevalence and cost of UK brain disorders is likely to continue to increase, adding additional pressure on the NHS and Social Services, particularly in regard to the cost of institutionalised care.”

Professor David Nutt, a lead author of the report and Edmond J Safra chair in Neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College London, said: “Clinical and economic challenges posed by brain disorders requires coordinated effort at an EU and national level to transform the current scientific, healthcare and educational agenda. Diseases need to be ranked according to their economic burden to help more efficiently allocate current and future research funds.”

Paul Jenkins, CEO of mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: “We welcome this study and totally support its call for more funding for research into mental illness. It’s a huge source of frustration for our members that the treatments available for mental illness, particularly medication, lag so far behind those available for physical conditions.

“Last year the Schizophrenia Commission highlighted how little money is spent on mental health research compared to other conditions like cancer or Aids, despite mental illness accounting for 23% of the disease burden in the UK. It’s crucial that more research is carried out into how the brain works so that we can develop better treatment and further our understanding of mental illness.”

The study is published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.