Mental health is about a person’s ability to enjoy their life and cope with life’s ups and downs. It involves a diverse set of individual, family, community and structural factors that can protect or undermine one’s well-being. These include emotional skills, social supports, access to care and treatment and underlying biological factors such as genetics and brain structure.
Approximately 970 million people around the world live with a mental illness and almost half of them do not get the help they need. In addition, people with mental illnesses often face stigma and discrimination. The cost of unmet mental health needs is staggering—and those costs spill over into the economy and society at large.
Mental illness can be very hard to recognize, and it may be unclear when a problem is serious enough to seek medical attention. It is important to understand that mental illnesses are very real, treatable conditions and can be just as debilitating as a physical illness. Getting help is the first step to recovery and a healthy, fulfilling life.
Fortunately, effective prevention and treatment options exist and most people recover to live productive lives with mental illness. Despite this, there is still much work to be done to make sure that all people have access to quality mental health care and services. Providing funding for mental health care is essential, but so is improving the availability of affordable and accessible services. Sadly, most governments allocate less than 2% of their health budgets to mental health care and most countries have significant gaps in services. The COVID-19 pandemic further aggravated these problems and has strained already tight health budgets in many countries.
In the past, when a person’s mental state became a major concern, they were sometimes put into state psychiatric hospitals. These institutions were often overcrowded, and it was common for patients to experience the same conditions as inmates of a prison, such as hunger and sleep deprivation. In the 1980s, some states began to deinstitutionalize their psychiatric hospitals and transfer their patients into the criminal justice system. The result was a drop in available beds and an increase in the number of prisoners.
It is now time to turn the tides and to elevate consideration of mental health in the global arena and to give it its rightful place as a priority in our efforts to achieve universal health coverage. This will require addressing macro level issues such as the elimination of corruption, and it will also require recognising that mental health is an integral component of every other element of sustainable development.
The mental health challenges that many people around the world face are complex and varied, but they share some common themes. The stigma that surrounds mental illness makes it difficult to seek treatment, and those who do seek help may be misdiagnosed or treated inadequately. The World Bank is working to address these challenges, with specific projects focused on mental health that are part of our overall strategy to support countries in accelerating progress toward universal health coverage.