Treating mental health is the single biggest cost to the world’s economy. Treating mental illness around the world cost £1.6 trillion in 2010, with this number expected to rise to £3.8 trillion by 2030. It was recently revealed that mental health problems cost London around £26 billion a year. The adolescent brain undergoes many changes as it matures and, because of this, mental health issues are most prevalent around this time.
With this data, you would assume that the adolescent brain would be the focusing point for most research on mental health conditions, given its prevalence in their development. You would be wrong. Earlier this year, Science Magazine reported that less that one percent of the National Institute of Health’s burget was spent on research on the adolescent brain. This is less than $300 million (£189 million) when serious mental health conditions cost the USA $318 billion (£218 billion) every year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It’s not just the US that are underestimating the cost of mental health. According to the Mental Health Foundation, only 5% of the UK’s health research budget goes into mental health research.
Large groups of research subjects are often comprised of a mixture of children and adolescents, with no real regard for the differences in their development. According to the Children & Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, children and adolescents are often overlooked, with no real provisions for them when it comes to determining risks of mental health conditions. In fact, distinctions are often not made between children, adolescents and adults in two thirds of these assessments and, whereas risk factors are often looked into when assessing a young persons mental health, only one fifth of assessments link these risks to mental health problems. These risk factors are often overlooked and sometimes not even reported, meaning their relevance is not taken into consideration during reports. Perhaps the worst part of this is that the data used in assessments for estimating the risk of mental health conditions in the general population has not been updated since 2004. A lot of things have happened since then, most notably the recession. The fact that we are still using data that could almost be described as archaic after so many changes in our way of life is concerning. Given the stressful times we currently live in, mental health is on the rise and we should be doing everything we can to target it where it starts.
So why are the adolescents of the world overlooked when it comes to possibly life changing research and assessment? Could the problem be stereotyping? Teenagers and young adults are expected to be upset and angry, leaving underlying problems unnoticed or ignored. As a society, we need to accept that sometimes people aren’t just going through phases. We need to start helping people as soon as these problems start so we can be there for them, instead of attempting to catch them when they fall. The way we currently treat mental health is detrimental to both our society and our economy and yet very few people outside of those affected seem to care. If we want to limit mental health problems in the future, both to improve our quality of life and economy, we need to target these problems where they start, instead of waiting for people to show serious symptoms before we recognise there’s a problem.
Mental health is not just a phase. If improperly treated, it can stay with someone for their entire life. Let’s start working on ways to prevent it by recognising the symptoms and treating them with therapy and medication before they manifest into something worse.