The 4-5-15 edition of the New York Times has an article about a new way of thinking about, and quantifying, health policy with potentially significant implications for research and funding for mental health conditions. The article, “When ‘Moneyball’ Meets Medicine,” begins by discussing traditional measures of health problems, which focus on the number of deaths from diseases and injuries. The results guide how money money is invested in research and treatment for conditions like cancer, stroke, and heart disease.

The author goes on to describe a new metric, “disability-adjusted life years,” or DALYs (rhymes with tallies), which are calculated by measuring how many potential years of life are lost when a person dies and then incorporates the number of years lived with disability. This new way of measuring is more complex than the traditional metrics, but also “aligns with most people’s intuitive sense of how health really works. And, “Just as baseball and other sports have been transformed by our understanding of new numbers (hence, the comparison to “Moneyball”), public and global health can be, too.”:

The reader may wonder at this point what this posting has to do with mental health. When the impact of health conditions is measured using DALYs, mental health conditions are ranked significantly higher: In the US, depressive disorders are #5 and anxiety disorders are #13. This could result in significant increases in awareness of the need for funding for research and treatment. As the author stated, “Health loss from anxiety disorders is estimated to be 80 higher than from breast cancer. Do advocates for anxiety treatment even have their own colored ribbon?”

He concludes: “Advanced stats are too important to leave to professional sports teams. We can all try to choose the prevention, detection and treatment strategies that best add years of life and life to years.”

My take: DALYs could lead to significant policy changes with major impacts on funding for mental health services. These policy changes are discussed and implemented at a very high level in the health care system- but our professional organizations should be seeking input into these issues and we could bed monitoring whether our professional organizations are attending to these issues.

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