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U.S. Spending on Mental Health Care Soaring

Rate of increase now outstrips that for heart disease, cancer, data shows

WEDNESDAY, Aug. 5 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. spending on mental illness is soaring at a faster pace than spending on any other health care category, new government data released Wednesday shows.

The cost of treating mental disorders rose sharply between 1996 and 2006, from $35 billion (in 2006 dollars) to almost $58 billion, according to the report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

At the same time, the report showed, the number of Americans who sought treatment for depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health woes almost doubled, from 19 million to 36 million.

The new statistics come on the heels of a study, released Monday, that found antidepressant use among U.S. residents almost doubled between a similar time frame, 1996 and 2005.

Spending on mental illness showed a faster rate of growth over the 10-year period analyzed than costs for heart disease, cancer, trauma-linked disorders, and asthma.

According to the report, spending on heart disease rose from $72 billion in 1996 to $78 billion in 2006; cancer care rose from $47 billion to $58 billion; asthma costs climbed from $36 billion to $51 billion, and expenditures for trauma-related care rose from $46 billion to $68 billion.

In terms of per-patient costs, cancer led the way at $5,178 in 2006 (up slightly from $5,067 in 1996), while costs for trauma care and asthma rose sharply -- from $1,220 to $1,953 and from $863 to $1,059, respectively.

On the other hand, average per-patient spending for heart conditions fell, from $4,333 to $3,964. And spending on mental disorders declined from $1,825 to $1,591.

In the Monday study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, researchers reported that 10.12 percent of U.S. residents aged 6 and over, or 27 million people, were using antidepressants in 2005, compared to 5.84 percent, or 13.3 million people, in 1996.

The increase seemed to span virtually all demographic groups.

"This is a 20-year trend and it's very powerful," remarked Dr. Eric Caine, chair of the department of psychiatry and co-director of the Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

More information

For information on mental health issues, head to the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.

-- E.J. Mundell

SOURCES: Aug. 5, 2009, news release, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality; August 2009, Archives of General Psychiatry; Eric Caine, M.D., chair, department of psychiatry, and co-director, Center for the Study of Prevention of Suicide, University of Rochester Medical Center, N.Y.

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