London School of Economics and Political Science: Flourishing mental health linked to lower health and social costs

People with flourishing mental health do not use the public health system as much as others. This is the key finding of new study published in the Mental Health and Prevention Journal.

The study was conducted by researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), the Danish National Institute of Health, Copenhagen University, University of California Riverside and Harvard University.

This is the first-time researchers have investigated if flourishing mental health is linked to public health expenditure and social costs. Flourishing mental health is the researchers’ expression of the optimal level of mental health. This includes the highest level of positive emotions, well-being and social functioning, i.e. functioning in everyday life and in interaction with others.

The study is based on data from 3,508 Danes aged 16 and above in 2016. The researchers examined how many people had flourishing mental health and estimated this to be approximately 35% of the Danish population. They then linked to information about the use of health expenses in 2017.

These expenses included consultations with general practitioners, outpatient treatment, hospitalisations and the use of prescription medications. The responses were also linked to data pertaining to sickness benefit transfers (government compensated sick leave).

Commenting on the findings, lead author Ziggi Santini from the National Institute of Public Health, SDU said: “Until now, the primary focus has been on the societal costs associated with mental illness, which is substantial. But we should not focus solely on whether a person has a mental illness or not, but also look at whether a person flourishes, regardless of the absence or presence of mental illness. The study shows that flourishing mental health was associated with USD $-687.7 in lower health expenses per person in 2017, and USD $-297.8, in lower expenses for sickness benefit transfers per person in 2017.”

The researchers then estimated the total amount in lower expenses for the Danish population:

Ziggi Santini added: “According to our estimates, flourishing mental health was associated with approx. USD $1.2 billion per year in lower expenses for health and social costs.

“Our results show that flourishing mental health is associated with lower health and social costs, regardless of whether you have a psychiatric diagnosis or not. This means that we should not only focus on treating and preventing mental illness, but also on how we can create a society where far more people flourish in their everyday lives.”

Commenting on the study, co-author David McDaid from the London School of Economics and Political Science added: “The results of the study highlight the importance of investing in actions to promote population mental health. Previous studies indicate levels of happiness and mental flourishing in the UK are considerably lower than in Denmark, suggesting that if mental flourishing can be strengthened then the scope to reduce avoidable demand for health care services and long term absenteeism from work may be even greater”.

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