India and China bearing the burden of mental illness

19 May 2016
Mental illness in India and China is greater than in all high-income countries combined.

About one-third of the global disease burden for mental, neurological and substance use disorders occurs in India and China, according to University of Queensland research released today.

The research, published in The Lancet, has found that most people with mental illness in these countries do not receive appropriate treatment, and that there is an urgent need for improved prevention, early identification and treatment programs.

UQ School of Public Health researchers analysed data from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013 to shed light on the growing issue of mental illness in India and China, which is greater than in all high-income countries combined.

Research Fellow Dr Fiona Charlson said the burden of mental illness would increase more rapidly in India than in China over the next 10 years due to population growth rates.

“We estimate that in 2025, 38.1 million years of healthy life will be lost to mental illness in India (a 23 per cent increase), and 39.6 million healthy years will be lost in China (a 10 per cent increase),” Dr Charlson said.

She said the most common disorders are depression and anxiety, accounting for 37 per cent of all mental, neurological and substance use disorders in India and 30 per cent in China.

“The burden peaks between 15 years and 34 years of age in India, but in China it is much more sustained throughout adulthood and increases abruptly in people aged 60 and older,” she said.

This is consistent with the higher proportion of older adults in China.

“India and China jointly account for 38 per cent of the world’s population, so it is essential that public health policy makers understand the burden attributed to mental, neurological, and substance use disorders in these countries,” Dr Charlson said.

She said dementia was a growing problem for both countries, and it was estimated that the number of healthy years lost to dementia would increase by 82 per cent in India and 56 per cent in China from 2013 to 2025.

“Community engagement, increased support for community health workers and collaboration with traditional and alternative medicine practitioners are key to providing more accessible, affordable, and acceptable mental health care in India and China,” she said.

“The current and projected burden of mental, neurological and substance use disorders in India and China warrants the urgent prioritisation of programs focused on targeted prevention, early identification, and effective treatment.”

The China Medical Board and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation contributed to the research.

The study is one of three papers published in The Lancet and The Lancet Psychiatry, to mark the launch of the China-India Mental Health Alliance, a long-term project bringing together experts from China and India to look at the current status of mental health and mental health services in both countries.

The papers are the first of several publications to be released over the coming year.

Information about the alliance, including all published papers is available here.

Media: Fiona Charlson,, +61 7 3271 8685; Emma Lee, SPH Communications,, +61 7 3365 5358.