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World Mental Health Day 2020: It’s Time to Scale Up Investment in Mental Health

Published 10/10/2020 by Global Communities


By Rebecca Wener, Global Communities Program Officer for Governance and Global Health
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October 10th marks the 28th annual World Mental Health Day, and this year’s theme is a call to scale up investment in mental health.

Mental health disorders represent a critical yet under-emphasized component of the global public health burden. The World Health Organization has estimated that around 10.7% of the global population is affected by a mental health or substance use disorder. In countries impacted by crisis or conflict (an increasingly common dynamic in the 21st century), this number can be as high as 22%. 1 Furthermore, “3 million people die every year from the harmful use of alcohol and one person dies every 40 seconds by suicide.”2 There are economic consequences to these grim statistics, as it is estimated that the global economy loses approximately $2.5 to $8.5 trillion per year from lost productivity due to mental health disorders.3

However financial investment has not kept pace with the problem. Globally, countries spend, on average, 2% of their health budgets on mental health, while in low-income countries this number falls to 1%.4 Similarly, the mental health portion of the international development budget has never exceeded 1% of the total funding for health.5 Yet investing in mental health can yield significant return on investment. The WHO estimates that “spending $1 on mental health services can yield a return of $5 in the form of improved productivity and health.”6 The need for increased investment in mental health is particularly important in the global south, as it is estimated 80% of people living with mental health disorders live in low and middle income countries,7 where access to mental health services remains extremely limited.8

Global Communities and PCI have a history of working to support the mental and psychosocial well-being of people around the globe. In Sri Lanka, a country which has only recently come out of a devastating civil war, the SCORE project works to advance social cohesion and reconciliation. One component of the project includes an effort to increase access to psychosocial and trauma healing services in a variety of ways, including by partnering with local organizations that deliver community-based care, and working to address community-level barriers, such as stigma. In Jordan, the Youth Power project works to improve opportunities, well-being, and civic engagement for youth. Through its initiative “Mind Power,” Arabic language psychosocial support is provided to youth around a variety of themes using an innovative talk show format. In the United States, the Healthy Start connects clients in the San Diego to clinical mental health services through a partnership with the Urban Restoration Counseling Center. For many, this program represents a vital opportunity to get appropriate support and linkage to much-needed care and treatment.

The advent of COVID-19 has led to many experts to voice concerns about the “shadow pandemic”9 related to mental health, with an unprecedented number of people around the globe experiencing social isolation, an increased risk of gender-based violence, skyrocketing rates of substance use, and other risk factors for mental health disorders. Furthermore, with so many under lockdown, as well economic concerns leading to a reduction in services, access to services has become even more precarious.10 Troublingly, a report by Human Rights Watch has found that in many countries, reduced access to services during the pandemic has resulted in an increased risk of shackling (being chained up or locked inside a room) for many with mental health disorders. This practice is not only widely considered to be a human rights violation, but it may exacerbate existing mental health disorders or create new ones.11

It is clear that the need for greater investment in mental health and psychosocial wellbeing is more urgent than ever. This World Mental Health Day, let’s commit to making sure that investing in mental health becomes an international development priority.