Why Mental Health
More than 450 million people around the world suffer from a mental illness. One in four people experience a mental disorder and each of us could become the one at any given moment. It is a major invisible burden on all societies but, ironically, it is also one of the most neglected global health issues of our time.
Depression is the third leading contributor to the global burden of disease. Yet today, less than USD 2 per person is spent on mental health globally each year; in low-income countries that figure falls to under USD 0.25 a year. Clearly promotion and provision of mental health services are not yet priorities for many private and institutional donors. The impacts of such a gap are great: in low- and middle-income countries 76% to 85% of people with a severe mental disorder receive no treatment; even in high-income countries that figure can reach 50%. The lack of specialized resources implies that almost half the world’s population lives where, on average, a single psychiatrist services 200,000 people or more.
Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, people affected by mental disorders are sometimes denied basic rights such as food, the right to work, access to education and proper housing. In many countries they are held in degrading psychiatric institutions, or in spiritual healing centers where they are chained to a tree for an indefinite period of time while their families pray to cast out the “evil spirits”.
As a consequence, they often live in extreme poverty which, in turn, undermines their ability to gain access to appropriate care, integrate into society and recover from their illness. Exposure to traumatic events, conflicts and natural disasters can also have immediate and long-term impacts on the psychosocial wellbeing of the populations affected.