Mental Health and the Sustainable Development Goals

mental health

Mental health is a state of well-being in which people understand their emotions, think clearly, communicate effectively, learn and adapt, build resilience and hope for the future. It is an essential component of overall health and contributes to a person’s ability to function in their family, work, community and other activities of daily living. Mental health is also the foundation for healthy relationships, productive activity and the ability to make a contribution to society.

About 19% of adults experience a mental illness each year. This is one of the world’s leading causes of disability, affecting how a person eats and sleeps, works and interacts with others. It can also interfere with their ability to concentrate, remember things and make decisions. People who live with a mental illness need treatment, just like any other health condition.

A person’s mental health can be affected by a variety of factors, including their environment, lifestyle and genetics. It can also be influenced by social circumstances, like poverty and violence. Many mental illnesses are the result of brain chemistry changes, which can occur for many reasons. Inherited genes may increase your risk for a mental illness; life experiences, such as trauma and loss; and exposure to stressors or toxins in the womb can also play a role.

While people with mental illness face many barriers to getting help, psychologists and other mental health professionals are working to overcome these challenges. They are educating families, schools and workplaces, improving clinical training, and developing new tools to support and treat people with mental illness.

We are building a mental health system that provides care that is accessible, affordable and effective for everyone. This is a complex endeavor that requires strong and committed leadership, strategic investment, and effective partnerships involving a broad range of actors and stakeholders, including governments, civil societies, communities and people with lived experience. It is also critical to ensure that human rights and a comprehensive approach are integrated into all aspects of mental health.

The global mental health challenge is immense, but it can be overcome. With the right leadership, financing and support systems, countries can improve their progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including by taking action to end stigma and discrimination, reduce inequality, and invest in equitable access to quality care.

A huge proportion of the health burden attributed to mental disorders and psychoactive substance-related disorders is attributable to the fact that people do not receive adequate or timely treatment. The vast treatment gap is the result of insufficient funding, inequitable allocation, and inefficient use of existing resources. It is time to change that. Until we do, lives will continue to be lost to suicide and unmet needs for care. People who have thoughts of suicide need to know there is help. They can talk to their primary care provider, contact a suicide hotline or reach out to a friend or loved one for support. They can also find support through a church or other spiritual community.