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World Mental Health Day – The state of global mental health

Learn about global mental health statistics, as well as how World Mental Health Day plays a role in raising awareness.

World Mental Health Day

The COVID-19 pandemic has continued to impact people around the world. As well as the devastating impacts of the disease itself, the crisis has highlighted inequalities in healthcare systems and access to mental health services around the world. 

World Mental Health Day in 2021 focuses on some of these inequalities. In this post, we explore why global mental health is such an important factor and look at how organisations are raising awareness about the key issues. 

Why is mental health important? 

An individual’s mental health ties into their emotional, psychological, social and even physical wellbeing. Our mental health can impact how we feel, how we think, and how we act. It helps us build relationships with others, deal with life’s stresses, and make healthy choices. 

Physical and mental health are particularly closely linked. Several mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, are linked to an increased risk for health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. The same is true for the reverse; chronic illness can increase the risk of mental illness. 

On a global scale, mental health relates to a range of different social issues, such as social inclusion, economic development, and human rights. 

For individuals, nations, and the global community, it’s vital that we’re aware of the importance of mental health and the role it plays in our daily lives. 

What impacts mental health?

There are various factors that can affect mental health. Issues such as trauma, loneliness, bereavement, stress, and physical illness can all contribute towards poor mental wellbeing. Moreover, there are several social factors that can influence mental health. These include: 

  • Discrimination and stigma 
  • Poverty, debt, and social disadvantage 
  • Homelessness and poor housing 
  • Adverse life experiences 
  • Poor education 
  • Food insecurity

These issues, along with other lifestyle factors, can all influence the mental health of individuals and societies. As we’ll see, recent events have highlighted a growing inequity in the onset and outcomes of mental health around the world. 

Global mental health statistics

To better understand why world mental health is such a pressing issue, let’s take a look at some of the key statistics in this area. We’ve collated data from a variety of sources to examine the current state of global mental health: 

  • A 2017 study estimated that 792 million people lived with a mental health disorder of some kind, translating to 10.7% of the global population. The most prevalent were anxiety (284 million people, 3.8% of the population) and depression (264 million people, 3.4% of the population).
  • Data published in 2015 estimated that mental disorders are attributable to 14.3% of deaths worldwide, or approximately 8 million deaths each year.
  • According to the World Health Organisation, depression can lead to suicide, which contributes to over 700,000 deaths every year. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds.
  • Despite there being effective treatments for mental health disorders, over 75% of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment for them. 
  • A study into mental health issues during the COVID-19 pandemic found that global prevalence was higher than before the pandemic. Although estimates varied widely between countries, global data suggests 28.0% for depression; 26.9% for anxiety; 24.1% for post-traumatic stress symptoms; 36.5% for stress; 50.0% for psychological distress; and 27.6% for sleep problems. 

Mental health statistics by country 

There are various factors that make it difficult to compare mental health statistics between countries. As well as reporting issues, there are also factors such as misdiagnosis and an often high level of uncertainty in statistics. 

That being said, there are some figures available that show the prevalence of mental health disorders by country. The table below is taken from Our World In Data and shows the share of the population in 2017 with mental health and substance use disorders. It also shows the comparison to data from 1990. 

Source: Our World in Data

Mental health inequities

As several of the studies referenced so far highlight, there are some considerable inequities and inequalities when it comes to mental health. These two terms are important to understand, as they are not interchangeable

In healthcare, inequality refers to any measurable differences in the health of individuals or groups. Inequity, on the other hand, is a type of inequality that refers to unfair and avoidable differences, often the result of corruption, poor governance, or cultural exclusion.

Studies have shown that when it comes to inequities in access to mental health care, issues such as geographic region, gender, socioeconomic status, racial or ethnic background, and sexual orientation can all contribute. 

What is World Mental Health Day? 

Every year on October 10th, countries and organisations around the world mark World Mental Health Day. It’s a time to raise awareness about mental health issues around the world and encourage people to discuss the issues and solutions around mental health. 

World Mental Health Day was first observed on October 10th 1992 by the World Federation of Mental Health. Initially, the event was created as an educational day with the goal of promoting mental health advocacy. 

Since 1996, the event has had a theme linked to it. These often highlight some of the main issues linked to mental health at the time and include areas such as human rights, age, gender, suicide, culture, and specific mental health disorders. 

Why does it matter? 

World Mental Health Day is observed in many countries worldwide, and it’s an important occasion for many reasons. First and foremost, it raises awareness of some of the key issues for those suffering from mental health disorders.

Education is a vital part of the event, allowing those affected by poor mental health to recognise that help is available. Similarly, it helps to highlight the inequalities in mental health treatment, both on a national and international scale. 

Ultimately, the more mental health is an issue discussed on a global scale, the more that leaders, organisations, and nations will take steps to address the inequalities. World Mental Health Day is not just a one-off either; it’s a sustained approach to help as many people as possible and raise mental health awareness. 

World Mental Health Day 2021

The theme for World Mental Health Day 2021 is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. Outlined on the campaign homepage, 

Between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries are unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high-income countries is not much better.’ 

The issues go beyond just the suffering that comes with mental health difficulties. Those suffering from poor mental health can suffer physically, struggle in education, struggle with job prospects, and struggle with personal relationships. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the global mental health situation, and those affected by the pandemic, either directly or indirectly, need help. Check out our course on psychological first aid to find out more.  

Improving mental health worldwide 

World Mental Health Day 2021 focuses on supporting civil societies to play an active role in tackling mental health inequality in their local areas. One of the goals is to encourage researchers to share what they know about mental health inequality, including practical ideas about how to tackle this.

So how can countries and communities work to improve overall mental wellbeing? There are several studies and suggestions from experts that can help shape the future of mental health treatment, helping to increase global equity. 

One report from 2017 on the challenges and opportunities in global mental health found that there were priority areas that can address the mental health treatment gap and improve access to mental health services. This includes: 

  • Working to reduce stigmas about mental health 
  • Building and improving mental health systems for treatment and research 
  • Implementing prevention programs to decrease the occurrence of mental health issues
  • Establishing a sustainable scale-up of public health systems to improve access to mental health treatments 

The World Health Organisation also has a comprehensive mental health action plan for 2013-2030, which consists of four key areas: 

  1. Strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health
  2. Provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive mental health and social care services in community-based settings
  3. Implement strategies for promotion and prevention in mental health
  4. Strengthen information systems, evidence and research for mental health.

The plan outlines a variety of ways in which member countries can improve access and equality when it comes to mental health services.  

Final thoughts 

World Mental Health Day is just one element in the fight for global mental health equity. As the statistics suggest, there are some major issues in the mental health space, many of which have been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there are also some steps that can be taken to help more people get the help they need, as well as preventing issues before they arise. 

There is still a great deal of work to be done to combat the inequalities in global mental health. However, by raising awareness and prompting governments and organisations to change, we can make progress towards a fairer and more positive state of global mental health. To find out more about how to take care of your mental health, check out our article on the subject. 

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