​Symptoms of anxiety and depression in the post-peak pandemic era could be costing Singapore 2.9 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP)—or nearly S$16 billion—suggests a study conducted by Duke-NUS Medical School and the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).

Publishing in the journal BMC Psychiatry, the researchers estimated the total economic burden of lost productivity due to anxiety and depression in Singapore to be S$15.7 billion (US$11.72 billion) annually, based on survey data from 5,725 Singaporean adults collected via an online panel between April and June 2022.

Using a short questionnaire to identify the subset with current symptoms of anxiety or depression, they found 14 per cent of respondents had symptoms consistent with depression and 15 per cent, including many of the same individuals, had symptoms consistent with anxiety. Results further revealed that, among those who were identified as having these conditions, only 32 per cent reported seeking healthcare to treat their mental health conditions and only 24 per cent consulted a mental health provider.

"This is concerning is it suggests these individuals are not benefitting from effective treatments," said senior author Professor Eric Finkelstein, a health economist with Duke-NUS’ Health Services & Systems Research Programme.

To this point, 13 per cent of those suffering from these conditions made at least one visit to the Emergency Department and 9 per cent were admitted into the hospital. This increased healthcare costs by an average of S$1,050 per year for these individuals.

Further results revealed the affected respondents reported missing an extra 17.7 days of work per year and being 40 per cent less productive while at work, bringing the total value of lost productivity attributable to anxiety and depression in Singapore to S$15.7 billion. Prof Finkelstein said, "These findings reveal that successful efforts to improve mental health will have both health and productivity benefits."

These estimates are consistent with global findings. The World Health Organization estimates that COVID-19 has directly or indirectly contributed to an increased prevalence of depression and anxiety of 28 per cent and 26 per cent, respectively. Other estimates put the global economic burden of mental health conditions at $1 trillion per year.

Recognising the growing mental health crisis, the Singapore government has created a multiagency task force to address the growing mental health pandemic. However, more can be done.

"Greater efforts to encourage undiagnosed cases to seek treatment, expanded access to peer support programmes, increased efforts to improve mental health literacy and reduce stigma, and greater training among community resources such as general practitioners (GPs) and allied health professionals to diagnose and treat mental health symptoms are all part of a successful recovery strategy for the whole population," said Associate Professor Daniel Fung, Chief Executive Officer, Institute of Mental Health, and a co-author of the study.

The research was conducted using an internal grant from Duke-NUS. The research team is conducting a similar study focusing on Singapore’s youth and also looking at strategies to increase access to peer support programmes.