It has been more than 18 months since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In some countries, life is returning to some semblance of normality; in others, rates of transmission and hospital admissions remain high, disrupting the lives of families and communities.
The health argument
Close to one billion people have a mental disorder and anyone, anywhere, can be affected.
Depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide and is a major contributor to the overall global burden of disease. Globally, it is estimated that 5% of adults suffer from depression.
Globally, one in seven 10-19-year-olds experience a mental disorder. Half of all such disorders start by age 14 years but most are undetected and untreated.
People with severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia tend to die 10-20 years earlier than the general population.
One in every 100 deaths is by suicide. It is the fourth leading cause of death for young people aged 15-29 years.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a considerable impact on people’s mental health.
In all countries, the pandemic has had a major impact on people’s mental health. Some groups, including health and other frontline workers, students, people living alone, and those with pre-existing mental health conditions, have been particularly affected. At the same time, a WHO survey conducted in mid-2020 clearly showed that services for mental, neurological and substance use disorders had been significantly disrupted during the pandemic.
Yet there is some cause for optimism. During the World Health Assembly in May 2021, governments from around the world recognized the need to scale up quality mental health services at all levels and endorsed WHO’s Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2030, including the Plan’s updated implementation options and indicators for measuring progress.
It’s time to capitalize on this renewed energy among government leaders to make quality mental health care for all a reality. World Mental Health Day presents an opportunity for government leaders, civil society organizations and many others to talk about the steps they are already taking and that they intend to take in support of this goal.
World Mental Health Day is about providing an opportunity to empower people to look after their own mental health and provide support to others.
The care gap
Despite the universal nature and the magnitude of mental ill health, the gap between demand for mental health services and supply remains substantial.
Relatively few people around the world have access to quality mental health services.
The serious gaps that still exist in mental health care are a result of chronic under-investment over many decades in mental health promotion, prevention and care.
Stigma, discrimination and human rights abuses of people with mental health conditions remain widespread.
The economic cost
The lost productivity resulting from depression and anxiety, two of the most common mental disorders, costs the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year.
The investment deficit
On average, countries spend just 2% of their national health budgets on mental health. This has changed little in recent years.
Despite an increase of development assistance for mental health in recent years, it has never exceeded 1% of development assistance for health.
The good news
Some of the most common mental health conditions, depression and anxiety, can be treated with talking therapies, medication, or a combination of these.
For every US$ 1 invested in scaled-up treatment for depression and anxiety, there is a return of US$ 5.
For every US$ 1 invested in evidence-based treatment for drug dependence, there is a return of up to US$ 7 in reduced crime and criminal justice costs.
Generalist health workers can be trained to diagnose and treat mental health conditions.
Regular health checks of people with severe mental disorders can prevent premature death.
The quality of life of people living with conditions such as autism and dementia can be greatly improved when their caregivers receive appropriate training.
The rights of people living with mental health conditions can be protected and promoted through mental health legislation, policy, development of affordable, quality community-based mental health services and the involvement of people with lived experience.