Europe's Problem with Mental Illness


Along with a shaky currency, and fears of sovereign debt defaults, Europe has another problem on its hands: psychiatric disorders are now the biggest source of illness among Europeans.

A new study in European Neuropsychopharmacology shows that 38.2% of Europe’s population grapples with some kind of psychiatric problem. Depression, insomnia and anxiety top the list. Only one third of those afflicted receive treatment. Hans-Ulrich Wittchen from the Technical University of Dresden led the three-year study of mental health in 30 countries.  Here’s part of the abstract:

No indications for increasing overall rates of mental disorders were found nor of improved care and treatment since 2005; less than one third of all cases receive any treatment, suggesting a considerable level of unmet needs. We conclude that the true size and burden of disorders of the brain in the EU was significantly underestimated in the past. Concerted priority action is needed at all levels, including substantially increased funding for basic, clinical and 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.


note: European Union (EU-27) plus Switzerland, Iceland and Norway were included- 13 European including Russia are missing.

Eric Murphy

More like Europe's large and growing public sector needs to justify its existence by suggesting that there is so much suffering out there people can't possibly do without them. And their fat wages. And their gold-plated pensions. 365-day a year holidays etc

Joshua Northey

Medicalization of culture. The change of normal things into medical conditions that need to be treated. We do that all the time here as well.

Take our insane dental spending.

I have some dental procedure X that I have been told for years need to be done.
I ask "Why should I have that done my teeth are not causing me many problems?"
The dentist says "Oh but the problem you have now could lead to this other problem."
And I ask "Why would I care about this other problem"
And the dentist says "Oh if you get this other problem you will need expensive procedure X to fix your teeth. "
And I think "So wait a minute you want me to get procedure X now, so that I can eliminate some chance of having to get procedure X eventually? That makes no sense at all".

Preventative treatment is good and cost effective, but at the same time a huge amount of the day-to-day medical/psychiatric problems people have can be solved by just waiting a few weeks.


Mike B

All they need now is a Tea Party and they can complete the Superfecta!!!

Iljitsch van Beijnum

They use a ridiculously broad definition of "psychiatric disorder". Even normal grief after a family member or friend dies is included, if I'm not mistaken.

Defining arbitrary categories and then counting the populations of those categories and drawing conclusions is not good research.


This was what I was wondering about too. The idea that two fifths of the people I know are suffering from mental illness seems very unlikely. Anxiety is a disorder?

Morten G

Anxiety is a very real and unpleasant disorder. Insane jealousy is usually an anxiety disorder.
Isn't the definition of mental disease that it has to handicap the individual in some way? Can't see how grief can end up in that category.
What does this have to do with economics / freakonomics?


Given the fact that Europe is largely considered one of the places on Earth where people are happiest (Forbes places 5 EU countries in the top 5 happiest countries and similar publications have very similar results), and, in conjuction with the financial-minded conclusion of the extract above I am adamant to believe the results published.

Basically put, EU is slashing public costs left and right, and it does not surprise me that scholars in public-funded centres of learning are eager to express such dire and dramatic outlook on issues which only them (and those within their field of expertise) may solve.

Ultimately, whatever the reasons of the study or the accuracy of the data I believe, that there is virtually zero relevance to it. I strongly suspect that if we in the EU have such important mental issues that we would not consider ourselves so happy.... unless thats the newest mental disorder that shrinks and doctors want to consider.

We do not need more hypocondriacs, we need doctors that focus less on the monetary gains.


Joel Upchurch

From what I've read claims of depression and anxiety are becoming more common because that is an easy way to get free drugs. This is sort of the opposite of drugs used to treat schizophrenia, where the side-effects are unpleasant and it hard to get patients to take their medications without supervision.

Carmen Chira

So there are studies saying Europeans are mad and studies that say they are very happy (there are 4 or 5 European countries who consider themselves highly happy) => conclusion: Europeans think they are happy because they are mad :-)

Seriously now, the way mental disorders are defined, I find the % pretty low actually


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