Research News

Mental health deteriorates in economically successful Taiwan

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 21 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7834

Taiwan’s economy has grown rapidly since the early 1990s, and this has been accompanied by profound social change. The country is richer, but is it any happier? Researchers have been surveying the adult population every five years since 1983. They added a screening tool for common mental disorders in 1990, when a representative sample reported a prevalence of 11.5% (95% CI 10.2% to 12.8%). By 2010, prevalence of common mental disorders had more than doubled to 23.8% (21.9% to 25.7%). The increase wasn’t explained by shifts in demographic or social variables, but rates of divorce, suicide, and unemployment all rose during the same period.

Other countries can learn from Taiwan’s experience, says a linked comment (doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(12)61602-X). Taiwan is an economic and political success story. But the transformation has not helped the population feel happier or worry less, just the opposite. Widening inequality and job insecurity have probably contributed to these trends.

We know that gross national product is a crude indicator of progress, but it dominates political thinking and discourse around the world. Governments have rich economic data at their disposal but poor data tracking the impact of their policies on population health, says the comment. These few Taiwanese surveys are the best available data in Asia. They show us why we need a much more holistic approach to progress, which can measure health and wellbeing as well as economic productivity. Credible measures are already available, and we should encourage politicians to use them.


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e7834