Resolving the paradox of increased mental health expenditure and stable prevalence

Graham Meadows, Ante Prodan, Scott Patten, Frances Shawyer, Sarah Elizabeth Francis, Joanne Enticott, Sebastian Rosenberg, Jo-An Atkinson, Ellie Fossey, Ritsuko Kakuma

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3 Citations (Scopus)


A doubling of Australian expenditure on mental health services over two decades, inflation-adjusted, has reduced prevalence of neither psychological distress nor mental disorders. Low rates of help-seeking, and inadequate and inequitable delivery of effective care may explain this partially, but not fully. Focusing on depressive disorders, drawing initially on ideas from the work of philosopher and socio-cultural critic Ivan Illich, we use evidence-based medicine statistics and simulation modelling approaches to develop testable hypotheses as to how iatrogenic influences on the course of depression may help explain this seeming paradox. Combined psychological treatment and antidepressant medication may be available, and beneficial, for depressed people in socioeconomically advantaged areas. But more Australians with depression live in disadvantaged areas where antidepressant medication provision without formal psychotherapy is more typical; there also are urban/non-urban disparities. Depressed people often engage in self-help strategies consistent with psychological treatments, probably often with some benefit to these people. We propose then, if people are encouraged to rely heavily on antidepressant medication only, and if they consequently reduce spontaneous self-help activity, that the benefits of the antidepressant medication may be more than offset by reductions in beneficial effects as a consequence of reduced selfhelp activity. While in advantaged areas, more comprehensive service delivery may result in observed prevalence lower than it would be without services, in less well-serviced areas, observed prevalence may be higher than it would otherwise be. Overall, then, we see no change. If the hypotheses receive support from the proposed research, then implications for service prioritisation and delivery could include a case for wider application of recovery-oriented practice. Critically, it would strengthen the case for action to correct inequities in the delivery of psychological treatments for depression in Australia so that combined psychological therapy and antidepressant medication, accessible and administered within an empowering framework, should be a nationally implemented standard.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)844-850
Number of pages7
JournalAustralian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • Mental health services
  • epidemiology
  • health behaviour
  • iatrogenesis
  • side effects (treatment)

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