October 6, 2010 / 4:50 AM / 9 years ago

Neurotic people can each cost society $22,000 a year: study

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Neurotic people aren’t only making their own lives harder but they also cost society billions of dollars in health care spending and lost productivity every year, according to Dutch research.

Researchers from the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam analyzed the cost of being neurotic and found while the least neurotic individuals cost society less than $3,000 per year, the most neurotic people cost more than $22,000 a year.

Neuroticism — a proclivity toward worry, anxiety and emotional ups and downs — is considered to be a personality trait with genetic roots, and is strongly associated with several types of mental illness, including depression, anxiety and schizophrenia.

“We thought that economic costs would be a good way to assess the overall impact of neuroticism,” researcher Dr. Pim Cuijpers told Reuters Health. “We were surprised that the impact was this large.”

While research has looked into the economic costs of individual mental disorders, most studies of neuroticism have focused on just one disorder or aspect of mental health, Cuijpers and colleagues said in their study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

For their study they looked at about 5,500 adults and examined their medical costs and the amount of days they were absent from work to come up with an annual figure (in dollars).

They assessed neurotic traits using a 14-item scale crafted from a personality inventory questionnaire used widely in the Netherlands.

The researchers found that the average cost for people who scored in the top 5 percent based on neuroticism was $12,362 above the average for the population.

Excess costs for people in the top 10 percent were $8,243, while costs for the 25 percent who scored the highest on neuroticism were $5,572.

The increased costs associated with neuroticism were “considerably higher” than those for associated mental health problems, for example mood and anxiety disorders, substance use disorders, and somatic disorders (meaning psychologically related physical problems), the researchers said.

For example, common mental disorders cost an extra $600 million per million inhabitants, they estimated, compared to nearly $1.4 billion for neuroticism.

This is largely because there are so many more people with some degree of neuroticism than there are people with mental illness, Cuijpers said.

Cuijpers said the findings show that personality affects not only the individual, but society as well.

“If this is realized as a common understanding, there are many levels at which these problems could be reduced,” Cuijpers said. “For example, employers can develop a good mental health climate, and mental health services can be included as basic needs in health care in general.”

Reporting by Anne Harding, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith\

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