10/10/2012 01:28 EDT | Updated 12/09/2012 05:12 EST

Mental Illness Impact Said To Be Bigger Than Cancer

The burden of mental illness and addictions is more than 1.5 times that of all cancers, a new report suggests.

Wednesday's report, called Opening Eyes, Opening Minds, concluded that mental illness and addictions are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed and ignored, including in the health care system.

"People can often dismiss mental illnesses as, 'Oh, that person is just feeling a little blue,'" said Sujitha Ratnasingham, lead author of the report by the Institute for Clinical and Evaluative Sciences and Public Health Ontario.

"But they don't fully understand the impact it has on their life as a whole, their work, their social interactions, their family."

Ratnasingham and her co-authors calculated the burden of some mental illnesses and addictions based on early deaths as well as their impact on quality of life.

Since many mental illnesses manifest between the ages of 18 to 24, people may experience them over a long period with significant impact on social connections, educational goals and participation in the workforce, the report noted.

"If we are able to help people when they do have the early onset, we could prevent a lot of this burden," Ratnasingham said.

People may recover but relapses are also common, she added.

In Ontario, mental illness and addiction contributed to more than 600,000 health-adjusted life-years, a measure that incorporates both premature death and reduced functioning or suboptimal states of health associated with disease or injury.

The five conditions that had the highest burden were:

- Depression.

- Bipolar disorder.

- Alcohol use disorders.

- Social phobia.

- Schizophrenia.

Depression had the highest overall burden, accounting for a third, the report's authors said.

Early detection key

In general, the burden declined with increasing age.

Bipolar disorder had the greatest impact among those aged 35 to 44.

Some cancers and infectious diseases may be more severe in terms of mortality rates, the authors said.

But the burden of mental illness and addiction in the province is more than 1.5 times that of cancer and seven times that of all infectious diseases when reduced functioning is considered.

Alcohol-related disorders were the exception, with those deaths accounting for 25 per cent of the burden of illness.

The authors recommended that early detection and timely intervention are critical, adding that effective treatments exist but only a small proportion of those affected receive them.

The Ontario figures are nationally representative, ICES said.

The authors did not consider co-morbidity, or suffering from more than one chronic condition at once.

Suicides and the impact of the illness on others, such as family members, were also excluded.

The researchers also relied in part on U.S. data.

Release of the report coincides with World Mental Health Day.

Also on HuffPost

Depression Around The World