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Mental illnesses on the riseAnxiety, compulsions, depression: More than 44 billion euros are spent on treating mental illnesses every year. No other illness causes so many disability pensions. The economic damage runs into billions of euros.

By Lothar Nickels

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Anxiety disorders most common

More than one in four adults in Germany is dealing with mental health problems. More precisely, more than one in four adults in Germany meets the criteria for a full-blown mental illness every year. That's about 18 million people, explains the German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Neurology.

Anxiety disorders are among the most common mental illnesses

At around 15 percent, most of them suffer from anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder or claustrophobia. A good ten percent have to deal with affective disorders. The mood of those affected is altered in a pathological way. If, for example, a person is extremely euphoric, it is called a mania. The opposite is depression, which manifests itself in a severely depressed mood.

These figures are also reflected in the working world. Psychological disorders were the reason for 16 percent of work incapacity days in 2017. On average, employees remain on sick leave for 35 days.

In a nationwide comparison, Bavaria recorded the fewest days of absence due to mental illness in 2018, at 1.9. Saarland leads the way with 3.1 days of absence per insured person.

The days of incapacity to work have increased in recent decades

Mental illnesses no longer taboo

According to the German Pension Insurance Fund, mental illnesses now account for 43 percent of all early retirements. This figure has almost doubled since the early 1990s. Women are more likely than men to drop out of the workforce prematurely.

The cognitive abilities of those affected are diminishing or they have little drive to perform the professional tasks required of them. The German Society for Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, Psychosomatics and Neurology states that in 2008, an estimated 70 billion euros in costs were incurred in the economy due to mental illnesses. More recent surveys are currently not available.

The significant increase in days absent from work and early retirement due to psychological causes suggests that more people than ever are suffering from mental illness these days. However, these statistics are not proof that the incidence of mental illness in the population has increased compared to earlier times.

Barbara Lubisch, Federal Chairwoman of the German Psychotherapists' Association (DPtV), points out: "The question is whether illnesses are on the rise or whether people with mental health problems are now more likely to see a doctor or psychotherapist. Certainly, destigmatization and better diagnosis of mental illnesses contribute to the increased need for treatment."

The prere to succeed at work can make people mentally ill

Changing risk factors

Since World War II, the living conditions of people in Germany have steadily changed for the better. Some changes may indicate that the risk of mental disorders has decreased.

Today – apart from professional soldiers in crisis areas – the majority of the population no longer has to suffer from the traumatizing consequences of war. This includes, for example, serious injuries, the early loss of close family members and friends, or the destruction of one's own home.

Another positive aspect is that children are now generally no longer subjected to an authoritarian style of upbringing with corporal punishment. Poverty in Germany has decreased and education has increased.

However, this positive development is offset by a number of factors that have massively increased the risk of mental illness, particularly in the past two decades. Our everyday life has become altogether faster, more restless and more restless.

This is primarily due to the constantly advancing digitalization in all areas of life. Privately and professionally, we should at best be available and accessible at all times. The job market demands ever greater professional mobility and flexibility.

Social networks with real interpersonal relationships are thus destroyed again and again or often cannot even be created in the first place. Social networks on the Internet have taken their place.

Another characteristic of our time is that family structures have changed. The extended family as a place of retreat where one can find protection and security no longer exists, but instead there are more single households and working fathers or mothers who raise their children alone. This can be accompanied by a regular change of caregivers, which can have a negative impact on their emotional development.

Men are still less likely to undergo psychotherapy than women

The prere to succeed is no longer limited to the adult world alone. Children and young people are also being asked to perform better and better. Nowadays, it is not uncommon for children to be able to read and write even before they start school.

In addition to the demands of school, parents often burden their offspring with numerous extracurricular activities in the afternoon. This leaves little time for rest and recovery.

This circumstance is additionally strengthened by the enormously increased media consumption of young people. Game consoles and televisions are almost part of the basic equipment in most children's rooms today. The smartphone has become a constant companion.

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