Cost of mental illness underscores need for new treatments

A new study in Health Affairs calculates the amount spent treating the top medical conditions in the United States.

Holly Campbell
Holly CampbellMay 25, 2016

Cost of mental illness underscores need for new treatments.

Today, one in five American adults and children experience a mental illness in any given year. As the prevalence of complex mental health conditions has grown, the cost of caring for patients has also increased.

According to a new Health Affairs study, the treatment of mental health disorders cost $201 billion in 2013 – more than any other medical condition in the U.S. health system, including heart conditions, trauma and cancer. While not among the fastest-growing medical conditions, with a growth rate of 5.6 percent compared to the top growing conditions which had an average growth rate of 10 percent, mental health disorders accounted for $38 billion in excess dollars spent, the highest of the medical conditions assessed in the study.

As a result of tremendous advances in devastating conditions like heart disease and stroke, many more Americans are living longer and may be more likely to experience the onset of mental conditions, such as dementia. This underscores how the need for new medicines to treat mental illnesses will only become increasingly acute.

Today, more than 135 medicines are in development by the biopharmaceutical industry to treat mental illnesses. All of these new medicines are being tested in clinical trials or awaiting approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


The new, targeted medicines in development span a variety of mental illnesses affecting adults and children, including:

  • 40 for schizophrenia, which affects approximately 1 percent of U.S. adults;
  • 29 for depression, including major depressive disorder, which affects 15.7 million U.S. adults and 2.8 million adolescents ages 12 to 17;
  • 28 for substance abuse and addiction disorders, which affects the 25 million Americans ages 12 and older who have reported using an illicit drug in the past month;
  • 14 for anxiety disorders, which affect 18 percent of U.S. adults and 25 percent of adolescents ages 13 to 18; and
  • 10 for pediatric patients with mental illnesses, which affect one in five children ages 13 to 18.

Despite this progress, there is still a tremendous need for innovative, robust treatment options. The limited neurological understanding, complexity of diagnosis and obstacles in clinical trial methodology are challenging, but the biopharmaceutical industry is working to develop a strong base of knowledge and cutting-edge medicines to address the urgent need for new medicines.

Learn more in the 2016 “Medicines in Development for Mental Illnesses” report, and see the full list of medicines currently in development to treat mental illnesses.

Additionally, a case study comparing the potential impact of using one-size-fits-all standards of care instead of personalized treatment plans for patients managing mental health conditions can be found here.

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