Youth mental illness costs U.S. billions

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Mental illness, substance abuse and behavioral problems among children and young adults, costs the United States $247 billion a year in treatment and lost productivity alone, an expert panel said on Friday.

The panel set up by the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine which advise U.S. policymakers urged the White House to set prevention goals and coordinate government action to attack the problem.

The panel looked at the financial toll from mental illnesses including depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and behavioral problems by people up to age 24.

It concluded that treatment and lost productivity costs alone reached an estimated $247 billion annually. That figure excluded criminal justice and education, workplace disruption and social welfare spending which would certainly add many billions more to the price tag.

“It’s a lot of money,” said Kenneth Warner, dean of the University of Michigan School of Public Health, who headed the panel.

The estimate came as the Obama administration and many lawmakers look for ways to improve U.S. healthcare, which is the world’s most expensive but lags many other countries in some quality measures.

Some school-based and other programs have effectively reduced mental health, substance abuse and behavioral problems but federal leadership has been lacking, the panel said.

“We really can prevent a lot of mental, emotional and behavioral disorders,” Warner said.

Editing by Alan Elsner and Maggie Fox