Mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which people realise their own potential, can cope with life’s stresses and strains, can work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to their community.” It encompasses a person’s ability to develop healthy relationships, manage their emotions, and maintain their physical and cognitive abilities. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in four people will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. These conditions are a leading cause of disability and premature death worldwide, with significant gaps in the availability of treatment.
The stigma surrounding mental illness is a significant barrier to seeking help. Research has shown that a combination of factors contributes to the development of mental illnesses. These include genetics, family history, brain chemistry, and significant life events.
People with serious mental illness can live full and happy lives with the right support and treatment. Sadly, there are many barriers to accessing care and the majority of people with mental health conditions do not receive any treatment. This is especially true for young people and people from low-income households, as well as LGBT individuals. People who do not receive treatment often report being too busy to seek help, lack insurance coverage, or are too embarrassed or afraid. Those who do seek help frequently cite difficulties with transportation, costs, and lack of privacy in the treatment setting.
The need to address these problems is undeniable. In fact, every dollar invested in mental health can yield a return of $2 on restored productivity and economic value.
A global approach to mental health is critical. It requires a multisectoral, integrated strategy that includes primary care services, housing, education, employment, social protection, and public health interventions. It also requires an emphasis on prevention, early intervention and recovery.
This is particularly important as we continue to recognize that mental health problems are highly prevalent and can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, religion or income level. It is also critical to remove discrimination against people with mental health problems, as well as promoting inclusion, awareness, and acceptance.
We must continue to promote and fund high-quality research that is rigorously conceptualized and transparent so that we can better understand the etiology of mental disorders and how they interact with other risk factors. These factors might be environmental, societal, or individual. The most common risk factors are alcohol and drug abuse, poverty, family dysfunction, physical illness, and trauma.
It is time for governments to recognize the importance of addressing mental health as part of overall health. It is also critical to include this in calls for universal primary care, so that mental health services are available for all. And, finally, it is essential to continue to promote the development of explanatory models for mental health disorders that incorporate scientific and experiential knowledge, as well as biogenetic and sociocultural models. This will ensure that the best available science is applied in the service of mental health.