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Psychiatr Serv. 2012 Apr;63(4):319-24. doi: 10.1176/

What's it worth? Public willingness to pay to avoid mental illnesses compared with general medical illnesses.

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Department of Preventive Medicine, Stony Brook University,Health Sciences Center, Level 3 080, Stony Brook, NY 11794-8335, USA.



Allocation of resources for the treatment of mental illness is low relative to the burden imposed by these illnesses. The reason for this discrepancy has not been established. Few studies have directly and systematically compared public evaluations of the importance of treating mental illnesses and general medical illnesses. This study assessed public willingness to pay for treatments of mental health conditions and of general medical conditions to determine whether willingness to pay less for mental health treatments is due to the perception that mental health conditions are less burdensome.


U.S. adults (N=710) in a nationally representative sample were provided with descriptions of two mental and three general medical illnesses. Respondents rated their willingness to pay to avoid each illness and then their perception of the burdensomeness of each illness.


Participants rated the two mental illnesses as relatively more burdensome than the general medical illnesses, but the amount they were willing to pay to avoid the mental illnesses was lower. Specifically, participants were willing to pay 40% less to avoid the mental illnesses compared with the general medical conditions, for a comparable benefit in terms of quality of life.


Even though respondents recognized that severe mental illnesses can dramatically lower quality of life, they were less willing to pay to avoid such illnesses than they were to pay to cure less burdensome general medical illnesses.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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