South Korea’s investment in mental illness research remains low despite the increasing social and economic burden such diseases pose, a report showed Monday.
According to the government-affiliated Korea Health Industry Development Institute, public subsidies for studies of mental illness remained at one-ninth the level of support for cancer studies in 2012 ― 30 billion won ($28 million) ― while the financial burden of mental disease was 80 percent higher than that of cancer.
Mental illnesses are thought to be a major cause of suicide in South Korea. The Health and Welfare Ministry’s recent survey showed that almost 40 percent of those who attempted suicide cited mental illness as a major reason. The country has the highest suicide rate among OECD countries.
Medical costs caused by mental diseases surged to 2.5 trillion won in 2011, up 3.8 percent from 2002, the KHIDI’s report said. About 4 trillion won was spent on related social expenses, which took up 0.5 percent of Korea’s gross domestic product, it added.
The institute suggested that the indirect financial burden of mental illness, such as loss of income, was as great as the direct medical costs due to the characteristics of mental illness ― long-term occurrence from an early age.
About 20 to 30 billion won was spent annually on mental disease studies from 2008 to 2012, accounting for 2.7 percent of the overall health and medical investment. At the same time, subsidies for cancer studies doubled every year, reaching 273 billion won in 2011.
According to the World Health Organization’s statistics, mental disease in Korea accounts for 21.2 percent of the total financial burden of all diseases, not including Alzheimer’s disease, followed by cancer and heart diseases.
Among the five biggest noncontagious diseases worldwide, mental illness is expected to cost the most, with 16.3 trillion won from 2011 to 2030, followed by heart disease with 15 trillion won and cancer with 8.3 trillion won, the WHO’s report added.
By Lee Hyun-jeong (firstname.lastname@example.org)