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Mood Disorders: Curbing the early burden of disability

The 2015 Global Burden of Disease Study revealed a startling statistic: depressive disorders and anxiety disorders are, respectively, the third and ninth leading causes of disability worldwide. In fact, mental illness accounts for one third of all years lived with disability – a staggering toll on the quality of life of so many individuals.

There are also economic impacts of mental illness, which include the direct costs associated with the health care system as well as the indirect economic costs related to loss of productivity and disability support services. In Canada, this represents an annual economic burden of approximately $50 billion.

Dr. Benicio Frey studies bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, with a focus on women’s health

Dr. Benicio Frey is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences at McMaster University. At St. Joe’s, Dr. Frey is the academic head of the Mood Disorders clinic and medical director of the Women’s Health Concerns clinic. His research focuses on the neurobiological mechanisms involved in bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder, with an emphasis on women’s mental health.

To better understand the trajectory towards disability for those living with mental illness, Dr. Frey and his team conducted an analysis on a massive cohort study of Ontario residents. The study examined the time between the first diagnosis of a mental disorder and the receipt of disability services. Entry into the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and admission to a Long-Term Care (LTC) facility were used as indicators of disability.

Mental Health & Addiction

The study consisted of nearly 300,000 participants with and without mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder, as well as over 1.6 million participants with and without common mental disorders, such as anxiety. A balanced ratio of participants with and without a diagnosed mental disorder was used.

In October 2020, the team’s findings were published in JAMA Network Open.

Dr. Frey and his team found a significant elevated risk of receipt of disability services early in the course of illness. The study also showed that individuals with bipolar disorders had the greatest ODSP utilization rates.

“This study really reinforces the case for further investment into the early stages of mental health care,” says Dr. Frey. “We know that early intervention strategies achieve better long-term outcomes among individuals with mood disorders. These results demonstrate the added importance of effective, early intervention from an economic point of view.”

Prior to the study, policy makers lacked a large, population-based study to ground their efforts towards increasing and improving access to early interventions in mental health treatment. Dr. Frey and his colleagues believe that better institutional supports to address acute mental health challenges will ultimately lead to a lower long-term economic burden of disability support programs, such as ODSP, since the number of patients on the trajectory towards disability would be reduced.

“With effective early interventions, we can ‘flatten the curve’ of the disabilities caused by mental illness and improve the quality of life for so many individuals experiencing mental health challenges, while also reducing the long-term economic burdens caused by these diseases – that’s a win-win scenario.”

Did you know?

In 2020, Dr. Frey received the title of University Scholar at McMaster, an honour granted to those who have distinguished themselves as international scholars and have demonstrated a commitment to discovery, communication and preservation of knowledge, excellence in education and pedagogy, and service to local and global communities.