Mental Illness a Significant Source of Role Disability
> 10/10/2007 1:08:43 PM

While we all know that doctor's bills do not comprise the total cost of physical and mental illness, we may easily overlook the indirect costs of illness. Role disability, the inability to work and perform social duties, has an increasingly-recognized impact on our economy and society. In a new study, Dr. Kathleen Merikangas of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)  and Dr. Ronald Kessler of Harvard Medical School aimed to discover the extent to which specific illnesses contribute to role disability. They found that over half of Americans experience role disability because of mental or physical illness, and that when multiple physical and mental disorders occur at the same time, role disability can become severe.

The study used data collected through the National Comorbidity Survey- Replication (NCS-R), which surveyed 9,282 adults over the age of 18. The researchers questioned 5,962 of those who responded to the NCS-R about how frequently they were unable to work or function due to physical or mental illness. The study revealed that over the course of one year 53% of American adults had at least one illness that led to role disability. They averaged more than one month of disability days. Nationally, Americans lost 2.4 billion days to chronic physical problems, with musculoskeletal conditions the most prevalent, and 1.3 billion days due to mental illness, with depression the most prevalent. When viewed individually, the effects of each mental disorder studied were as great as the effects of most of the physical conditions studied. The researchers note that mental illness represents a significant aspect of role disability because it is very common, can begin at an early age, and often occurs with other mental and physical disorders. When the researchers controlled for comorbidity, the association between each condition and role disability decreased. While people with only one mental or physical condition still experience role disability, people with multiple illnesses grapple with the greatest degree of role disability.

Research indicates that role disability comprises a large portion of the total cost of illness, and by not considering this cost, we not only underestimate the  economic damage caused by illness but also misuse resources. Hopefully this study will generate awareness of the effects of depression and musculoskeletal conditions, the two most common causes of role disability. More research into the development and treatment of these conditions can significantly improve the social and occupational functioning of many Americans. Now with an understanding of just how large the problem of role disability is, we can begin to create solutions.

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