What is the Financial Cost of Untreated Mental Illness?

Mental Health Issues

“I can’t afford it.”

Those four words sum up the top reason people say they don’t seek treatment for their mental health disorders, according to a study from the White House. By the very same financial calculus, however, it’s worth flipping the equation. In other words: many people can’t afford not to seek help. Having an untreated serious mental illness can cost you an estimated $1.85 million over your lifetime. With that in mind, it’s time to rethink if you can afford to see a mental health professional.


The per-patient lifetime burden of untreated serious mental illness is an estimated $1.85 million. So maybe you can afford to see a doctor. Click To Tweet

At nearly every level—from the personal to the societal—the effects of untreated mental health problems are staggering. Even compared to serious illnesses like cancer and diabetes, the estimated per-patient cost of a serious psychiatric illness is high, according to the National Institutes of Health. Serious mental illness comprises major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and psychoses.

What makes it so financially devastating? According to a 2019 study, serious mental health problems “can affect all parts of a person’s life, impacting healthcare costs, educational attainment, work productivity, employment status, and life expectancy.”


At the individual level, the costs of untreated mental anguish are numerous and deeply personal. For example, the impacts of untreated mental health issues can create lasting financial pain points such as:

  • People with serious mental illness earned an average of $22,545 annually compared to healthy respondents with an average income of $38,851, according to a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry.
  • When it comes to ADD/ADHD, adult sufferers earn $5,000 to $10,000 less per year than their colleagues, according to other studies. Multiply that shortfall by the 4.4% of U.S. adults diagnosed with the disorder—not to mention the millions more who have it but don’t know it, given that ADD/ADHD remains vastly underdiagnosed, especially in adults—and you get a sense of the scale of economic costs.
  • People with serious mental health issues are more likely to drop out of school, according to research.
  • Individuals with mental health problems are at greater risk for divorce, which costs an average of $15,000 per person but can soar past $100,000 in complex situations. Splitting assets and paying ongoing financial support can become a burden over time.
  • The per-patient lifetime burden of untreated serious mental illness is an estimated $1.85 million.


Let’s take a closer look at depression, which is the leading cause of disability among people aged 15-44 in the U.S., according to the CDC. Consider the impacts of anyone trying to perform well at home, school, and work–or while job hunting–while suffering from the following common depression symptoms:

  • poor concentration
  • feelings of excessive guilt or low self-worth
  • hopelessness about the future
  • thoughts about death or suicide
  • disrupted sleep
  • changes in appetite or weight
  • feeling very tired or low in energy

The cumulative daily impact of these silent battles can lead to a cascade of further problems such as job loss, demotion, or being skipped over for promotions.


On a societal level, the costs of untreated mental health problems are just as devastating. In the workplace, people take mental health days when struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. One study found that if U.S. workers took a single extra day off due to poor mental health every month that translated into a 1.84 percent drop in per capita real income growth rate for the country, causing a $53 billion drop in total income.

“This starts to give us an idea of what the gain could be if we did spend more money to help people with poor mental health,” said Stephan Goetz, one of the study’s researchers and a professor of agricultural and regional economics at Pennsylvania State University.

The study’s authors further calculated that the global cost of mental illness would rise to more than $16 trillion by 2038, which is more than the cost of any other non-communicable disease.

A different study, published in The Lancet Global Health, estimates the cost to the global economy in lost productivity from just two mental illnesses, anxiety, and depression, at $1 trillion a year. By 2030, the study projects the global economy will lose approximately $6 trillion annually to lost productivity due to all categories of mental illness.

The COVID pandemic isn’t helping. COVID, with all its impacts on mental stability, increased the cost of untreated mental illness to society overall to more than an estimated $1.6 trillion.


The good news is there’s a world of solutions available to treat mental health issues, many of which don’t necessarily come with a high price tag. For example:

  • Talk back to your ANTs, those automatic negative thoughts that plague us all.
  • Spend time in nature. Walking is good for brain health and mental well-being.
  • Exercise often. A 2023 study shows it is as effective at decreasing symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression as prescription medication or psychotherapy.
  • Spend more time with friends and loved ones.
  • Try a bright light therapy lamp with 10,000 lux for 20 to 30 minutes every morning. Studies show it has benefits for many mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, and seasonal affective disorder.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Research shows that for each serving you consume (up to 8 servings per day) the happier you become, and it happens almost instantly. Prescription antidepressants don’t work that fast!

In addition, be sure to seek out the help of mental health professionals who understand that mental wellness is related to the four circles of brain health: biological circle (how your brain functions), psychological circle (how you think), social circle (your relationships), and spiritual circle (a sense of purpose in life). It is only by addressing all issues in each of these 4 circles that you can heal fully and reach your potential in life.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. That light box works. I read about it in 1988 and my dad bought me one. How ever it does not compete with 30 minutes of out door sunshine! Vita d3 n k2 are good supplement for depression but still need real sunlite!

    Comment by Renee Baker — June 21, 2023 @ 7:54 AM

  2. An excellent article that offers a wealth of ways to move your healing forward by understanding your brains function, how you think, your relationships and your spirituality, to ” fully reach your potential in life.”

    I appreciate the variety of suggestions to implement that are both affordable and easily doable to get us there. Thank you!

    Comment by Terrilyn Miller — June 22, 2023 @ 1:07 AM

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a comment

Contact Us