Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with everyday stresses and strains, has satisfying relationships with other people, and contributes to society. It is influenced by many factors, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle choices. In the most extreme cases, mental illness can cause debilitating symptoms that interfere with daily functioning. These conditions may be treated with medication, psychotherapy or other interventions.
While the number of people living with mental illness continues to rise around the world, they still receive too little treatment. This is largely due to lack of investment, inequitable access, discrimination, and barriers imposed by social norms and culture. In fact, 35-50% of those with severe mental illnesses in the Global North do not receive any treatment, and the figure is significantly higher for individuals in the Global South.
It is a global imperative to provide better and more accessible mental health care, and the best way to do that is by elevating its status in international development policies. This can be done by treating it as a standalone goal in the Sustainable Development Goals, and providing funding for prevention, promotion, and care. It also means ensuring that the most powerful influences on mental health—including corruption—are recognized and tackled.
While there is much to do, progress is being made. The stigma surrounding mental illness has been slowly eroded, and surveys show that people who report having a mental illness are more open about seeking help than ever before. In addition, the majority of people who seek help say they did so because a friend or family member asked them to, and not because of the media.
Despite these advances, the vast majority of people who need treatment do not get it. This is because too few people are aware of the availability of services, they cannot afford the cost, or they think it is taboo to admit they have a mental illness. People with mental health conditions who are unable to find treatment experience high rates of school dropout, unemployment, substance use and poor physical health. They are more likely to be incarcerated, homeless or to die early.
Increasing the funding available for mental health will make a huge difference, but it is not enough. A broader cultural shift is needed to support people with mental illness, and this can be achieved by educating young people about mental health issues, encouraging them to seek help, and supporting communities that provide support. It also requires eradicating corruption, which undermines efforts to improve mental health care and causes people to miss out on life-saving treatment. It is time to take action to achieve a world where everyone feels accepted and included. The future of our global society depends on it.