Treatment access crucial to lower global anxiety health burden

16 March 2023

More referral pathways and public promotion would significantly lower the health impact of anxiety disorders worldwide, a University of Queensland study has concluded.

Researchers from the UQ School of Public Health and Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research estimate that up to 71.1 percent of the global health burden could be avoided if optimal treatments were available to everyone with an anxiety disorder.

They calculated the current anxiety disorder burden and avoidable burden by using available data on treatment effects and estimates of treatment use from the 1997 National Mental health Survey (NSMHWB), which are applied to the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2019.

The study simulated various scenarios, ranging from no treatment access to full access with cognitive behavioural therapy and antidepressants, for every country within the GBD 2019.

Lead author, Dr Damian Santomauro said the findings show 12.5 percent of the current global anxiety disorder burden has been averted with available treatments.

“We found high-income countries prevented the largest amount of the health burden, while Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia carried the largest proportion of avoidable anxiety disorder burden,” Dr Santomauro said.

“These results highlight the importance of public promotion and referral pathways for optimal available treatments.”

The Global Burden of Disease Study 2019 estimated that six per cent of Australian’s had an anxiety disorder in that year, which included persistent and excessive worry and fear about daily life.

Dr Damian Santomauro said GBD 2019 was the world’s largest study on the prevalence and health burden of disorders, injuries and risk factors, and the results were used by policy makers, service planners, resource allocators and researchers worldwide.

“However, GBD 2019 may have underestimated the burden in countries with lower quality health systems as anxiety disorder severity in GBD 2019 was informed by one survey in Australia,” Dr Santomauro said.

“The novel research method used in this study meant we could estimate the health burden and incorporate treatment access by country, which increases the precision of health burden estimates and provides a roadmap for clinicians, public health practitioners and policy makers to translate GBD estimates into actionable results.”

This open access study is published in the journal The Lancet PsychiatryDOI:10.1016/S2215-0366(23)00037-8

It was led by researchers from the Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research, in partnership with The University of Queensland and researchers from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.