Ireland has highest burden of mental ill health in new EU report

The State of Health in the EU report, published every two years, compares Ireland with other EU countries in various categories, including health, risk factors and health system performance.

For the first time this year, a section on mental health has been included in the report. It added that it is difficult to determine the exact number of people affected by mental health disorders, but the rate in Ireland is higher than the EU average.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that more than one million people in Ireland had a mental health disorder in 2019, representing 21 percent of the population.

This is not only higher than the EU average of 16.7 percent but also higher than Ireland’s 2016 rate of 18.5 percent.

Anxiety disorders were the most prevalent and affected 7.6 percent of the population, while depressive disorders were 5 percent and alcohol and drug use disorders were 4.7 percent.

The report states that the relatively high prevalence of mental health disorders in Ireland significantly impacts the well-being of its citizens and has a profound impact on the economy.

“Based on estimates…mental health disorders in Ireland resulted in approximately 141,500 years of productive life lost in 2019.

However, the report also found that suicide rates in Ireland have fallen by almost 12 per cent over the past 10 years.

The report said suicide is a significant public health problem in the European Union, including Ireland, where it accounted for 1.4 percent of all deaths in 2020.

Although at a slower rate than most other EU countries, Ireland’s suicide rate has declined over the past decade in line with the trend seen across the EU.

In 2020, Ireland’s suicide rate was 9.6 per cent per 100,000 population, about 6.1 per cent lower than the EU average.

Promoting mental well-being and improving the services available to people experiencing mental health difficulties are key priorities for the Government, and these figures are a reminder of why it is vital we maintain that focus and commitment , said Mary Butler, Minister for Mental Health and Older People.

The report also found that Ireland has the highest reported rates of good health in the European Union.

While the report found that 80 per cent of Irish people reported they were in good health, this was due in part to Ireland’s younger age profile compared to the EU average.

Cancer was found to be the leading cause of death in Ireland and almost three out of every 10 deaths were caused by cancer. Lung cancer remains the most common cause of death and is responsible for one in every five cancer deaths.

Behavioral risk factors are responsible for 35 percent of all deaths in Ireland and the report stated that these risk factors were the major drivers of mortality in Ireland.

Nearly 20 per cent of all deaths in Ireland in 2019 were caused by smoking, higher than the EU average of 17 per cent. Dietary exposure was also a factor, with 13 percent of deaths being related to it. However, the dietary risk was lower than the EU average, which is 17 percent.

Alcohol consumption was associated with 5 percent of deaths while low physical activity was responsible for 3 percent of deaths.

The report notes that while obesity among adults remains a public health concern, the population in Ireland is becoming more health conscious.

The prevalence of obesity in Ireland was 21 percent in 2022, higher than the EU average. However, in 2019 it was reported that about 33 percent of adults consumed less than five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, which is higher than the EU average of less than 13 percent.

37 percent of the Irish population reported that they do at least 150 minutes of physical activity per day, which is higher than the EU average of 33 percent and higher than the 29 percent recorded in Ireland in 2014.

Despite improvements in alcohol consumption, heavy drinking is still a significant risk factor, according to the report.

One in five adults in Ireland in 2019 reported that they regularly drank heavy amounts of alcohol, down from 2014, when it was almost one in three.

In terms of total alcohol consumption per capita, Ireland recorded a consumption of 10.2 liters of alcohol per year in 2022, higher than the EU average of 9.8 litres.

The report also examined the health systems in each country. The report found that health spending increased by more than 12 percent between 2019 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Per capita expenditure on health in Ireland in 2021 was £3,885, slightly below the EU average of £4,028.

The report said Ireland spent a third (32 per cent) of its health budget in 2021 on inpatient care and 25 per cent on outpatient care.

In terms of access to health care, the report found that in 2022, 2.6 percent of the population faced medical care needs due to excessive cost, travel distance or waiting time.

This rate was slightly higher than the EU average of 2.2 percent and Ireland’s rate of 1.7 percent in 2019.

The report also notes that the design of Ireland’s health care system is unusual within the European Union in that it does not provide universal health coverage for all residents.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said these country health profiles provide a concise and policy-relevant overview of health and health services in the EU/European Economic Area.

They emphasize the characteristics and challenges of each country against the backdrop of cross-country comparisons. They have helped us support policy making and are an important means for mutual learning and voluntary exchanges, he said.

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