Mental Health and GlobalMentalHealth@Harvard

Mental health is a state of emotional, psychological and social well-being, influencing cognition, perception and behavior. It determines how people handle stress, interpersonal relationships and decision-making. It also enables them to enjoy life and contribute at work. The vast majority of people who suffer from mental illness can overcome their symptoms with the help of effective treatment and a wide range of support services.

While most people have some form of depression or anxiety, some experience a more serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, eating disorders and other conditions. When these conditions are not treated, they can be debilitating and affect a person’s ability to function at home, school, work and in their community. However, a diagnosis and proper treatment are the first steps towards recovery.

Symptoms of mental illness can vary widely, but are typically characterized by changes in thinking or emotions. They may include a loss of interest in activities, an increase or decrease in appetite, difficulty sleeping and uncharacteristic anger or agitation. Some people can experience suicidal thoughts or feelings of hopelessness and emptiness, while others feel on-edge or fearful. A person’s mental health is influenced by both personal and societal factors, including family history, exposure to trauma or disasters, social supports, access to education and employment and the availability of treatment and care.

There is an ongoing global need for more people with mental illnesses to be able to receive the right treatment and support. A recent report from the World Health Organization found that nearly one in four people worldwide do not receive adequate treatment. This is mainly due to stigma and discrimination, lack of accessibility to affordable health care and low levels of public funding.


The Department of Psychiatry is the hub for Harvard University’s research and teaching in global mental health. Its long academic tradition includes teaching medical students from China and Africa in cultural psychiatry and anthropology of mental illness, organizing NIH and Carnegie Foundation-funded research on these subjects, and publishing books and articles on topics ranging from stigma and indigenous healing to family-based psychosocial interventions.

The most effective approach to mental health is through preventive efforts, including regular check-ups and screening for common mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. In addition, it is vital for workplaces to create a safe and healthy work environment, which is possible by providing mental health training and policies, promoting mental wellness at all levels of the workforce, and offering flexible work options for employees who need them. Research has shown that addressing mental health at work has benefits for both the individual and society as a whole. In fact, according to a 2019 survey by Mind Share Partners, 71 percent of respondents who had experienced a mental health challenge at work reported that their job was not mentally healthy. This is especially true for employees who reported that their company’s culture did not embrace the importance of mental health. It is important for companies to establish a culture that promotes mental health, which begins at the top of an organization with leadership support and accountability mechanisms for workplace wellbeing.