The epidemiological shift from infectious diseases to mental disorders as the main cause of disability-adjusted life-years that took place in Europe and the Americas has left mental illnesses as a leading cause of disease burden in children aged 5 to 14 years, study findings indicated.
“Although some papers have already presented the results of the most recent [global burden of disease] studies of young people, most of their analyses were conducted at the level of the planet and thus masked the huge specificities that exist between regions,” Marie Laure Baranne and Bruno Falissard, MD, PhD, from Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, wrote in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. “For this reason, these analyses were unable to interpret the global weight of mental disorders adequately in the pediatric population.”
Researchers examined the global burden of mental illnesses among youth aged 5 to 14 years using data from the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) 2015 study, which provide disability-adjusted life-years for each of the six WHO regions: Africa, the Americas, South-East Asia, Europe, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific. Disability-adjusted life-years, the main indicator of GBD studies, are the sum of years of life lost and years lost due to disability for disorder, age, sex and year, according to the authors. They also assessed the relative trends of disability-adjusted life-years trends in each region between 2000 and 2015.
The results showed that mental illnesses ranked third in 2000 among the causes of disability-adjusted life-years for children living in the Americas and Europe but reached second place by 2015. In 2000, mental disorders were the fourth leading cause of disability-adjusted life-years in South-East Asia, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Western Pacific. Although this did not change in South East Asia by 2015, their rank fell to fifth place in the Eastern Mediterranean and rose to third place in the Western Pacific.
Study findings indicated that the epidemiological shift from infectious diseases to mental disorders as the main cause of disability-adjusted life-years that took place in Europe and the Americas has left mental illnesses as a leading cause of disease burden in children.
“We found that the prevalence of mental disorders in young people remained stable between 2000 and 2015, which suggests that mental disorders are not decreasing in young people despite the global improvement of their physical health,” Baranne said in a press release.
In Africa, infectious diseases were the most prevalent cause of disability adjusted life-years, but the impact of infectious diseases decreased in Europe, Western Pacific, South-East Asia and the Americas from 2000 to 2015. The impact of mental disorders increased during the same time. Conduct disorders, anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders and autism-Asperger syndrome ranked among the 20 diseases linked to the most disability-adjusted life-years among children living in most regions, according to the press release. Along with an effect over time, the researchers observed an income effect demonstrating that the regions with the highest gross domestic product had fewer issues with infectious diseases and more with mental illnesses, especially in Western Europe.
“In the future, the decrease of other, preventable diseases, such as diabetes, will lead to an increase in the importance of treating mental disorders for public health,” Baranne said in the release. “Our study is intended as an urgent signal of alarm to international public health institutions and policy-makers. Given the impact of these mental disorders in the long term, organizing a global policy to address this issue requires careful preparation.” – by Savannah Demko
Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial disclosures.